Carbone’s Ristorante in Hartford celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, but the word “old” does not apply. “Legendary,” yes. “Iconic,” yes. An institution? That, too, but one that walks with a spring in its step because for all these years, as Hartford changed around it, this classic Italian restaurant has remained the abiding passion of the Carbone family.
For three generations, younger members of the family have honored the past by personally carrying it forward, adding literally and figuratively to the magic of the myth that began when two brothers, Charlie and Anthony Carbone, emigrated from Bari, Italy, to Hartford.
The year was 1938. It was not the best of times. Bari was dirt-poor and America was in the grip of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, immigrants unwelcome, but the Carbone brothers, resourceful and used to hard work, set up a stand serving sandwiches and beer across from Bulkley Stadium, home to professional baseball teams such as the Hartford Chiefs and the Hartford Bees. Soon business was so good the Carbones were able to open a casual restaurant serving southern-fried chicken in the rough. They called it The Southern Plantation.
Years passed, times changed, but by 1961 Charlie’s sons, Gaetano and Carl (both with culinary school degrees), were ready for the challenge—transforming the restaurant, renaming it and taking it back to its Italian-American roots. At the time, the Franklin Avenue neighborhood was chock-a-block with Italian shops and restaurants, but Carbone’s was the place to go, particularly on special occasions. It was classy but friendly. You got dressed up to go there but you felt at home. It was also what it is today—a gathering place for movers and shakers in the capital city: politicians, sport figures, movie stars, celebrities of every stripe: Mayor Mike Peters, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Sammy Davis, Jr., Arnold Palmer, Dustin Hoffman—far too many to name. Their history, photos and memorabilia line the walls.
When Vincent Carbone (pictured), third-generation and a fine chef, took over in 2004, he not only knew the restaurant business inside-out, he loved it. With Vinnie at the helm, Carbone’s has blossomed with changing times while retaining its Old World charm, 300-year old family recipes and warm, welcoming hospitality. As Vinnie puts it: “We treat you like family . . . alright, better than family.”
- Elise Maclay