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Experience Old World Italian Cuisine at Pietro’s Trattoria

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If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being greeted by the engaging smile of Chef Pete Murdaca at Pietro’s Trattoria in Lodi, you will be glad that he did not follow the first choice on his career path. “I played sports all through college and then thought I wanted to be a stockbroker,” Pete revealed. “I thought, okay, I could make some money, but there was no real passion behind it.” He had grown up in the restaurant as a dishwasher and busboy, but the turning point came when he went to Rome. “I realized that there was more going on in the world and people live way differently than I do. The culture is so intertwined with what they’re eating; they are one and the same, and it was really cool to see how it all came together.”

For Pete and the Murdaca family, it has come together quite well since his grandparents emigrated from southern Italy over 60 years ago. The family opened the first restaurant in Vacaville; it’s still in operation today. Established in 1985 by Pete’s dad, Jim Murdaca, Pietro’s of Lodi has evolved from pizza parlor to trattoria with a few major remodels and the planting of functional gardens along the way. The restaurant has become a mesh of old and new, as father and son meet in the middle on decisions from menu to management. “Just look at the menu and you can see the old is still there with the new. We are careful not to lose our soul while still moving forward,” Pete remarked.

During his stay in Italy, Pete learned a lot about keeping the soul intact through food. “They use really quality ingredients, keeping it super simple, not getting all super-chefy or scientific about it.” Pete was most impressed by the Old-World philosophy in which the vendors would come through the back door with produce and goods. “They source as locally as possible, only buying cheese from the cheese guy and meat from the meat guy.” Pete recalled how they would eat lunch every day and how simple, yet fresh and delicious, everything was. “Just tomatoes with fresh basil from around the corner and a little sea salt, and that was it. Amazing! It was so good.” 

The thriving gardens embellishing the trattoria’s entrance and tumbling over the shaded patio are an indication of just how locally sourced and truly fresh Pietro’s produce is. The roasted Calabrian peppers basking in local Corto Extra Virgin Olive Oil, served with our Pepperoni Vero Pizza, were picked just moments before our arrival. And indeed, the basil gracing our heirloom tomatoes and burrata with balsamic reduction was still damp with the morning dew. I’m quite positive the roasted eggplant suffusing the handmade Rigatoni alla Norma had greeted me as I made my way along the graveled path to the front door. Although Chef Pete called it “just a piece of meat with sea salt,” our choice-cut beef was juicy and tender, grilled to a succulent perfection.

If you plan to go, know that you will experience a little part of Old World goodness steeped in Chef Pete’s ideals of what food should be all about. “Everything I do is based on a memory and that makes me feel happy.” That famous grin lights up his face when he reminisces about his grandmother frying eggplant or the fragrances of garlic and oregano emanating from her kitchen. “Family and food go together. Everybody talks to each other while they’re eating. It’s where memories are made. What would food be if we didn’t have memories to go with it? We would just eat to survive.”

Pietro’s Trattoria is located at 317 E Kettleman Lane in Lodi, California. Call (209) 368-0613 or email pietros.inlodi@gmail.com for more information. Pietro’s is open Monday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m; Friday and Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m; closed on Sundays.

Written by: Sharon Baker