all art courtesy of Island Italian unless otherwise indicated
It’s all about the red sauce, boss! Padre Island’s longest continually operating full-service restaurant happens to be an old-school, family-owned-and-operated Italian food oasis named Island Italian.
Here are three sure bets when indulging in the home-cooked comfort that Corpus Christi’s Island Italian has to offer:
1. Oooh, That Aroma!
As soon as you walk in to the modest structure with the bright red awning and friendly pink-and-black sign, you get a strong sense of what’s to come. First, that wafting scent is a knock-out – tomato-y, tangy, garlic-y, smoky – and will have you guessing as to what the day’s special is. Things are baking! Things are simmering! And they cannot wait to get in your belly!
photo by Visit Corpus Christi
Take your seat and look around. If the green-and-white checkered tablecloths, bright red chairs and curtains don’t clue you in, check out the funny chef statuette and the painting of the crossed Italian and American flags. This is the place! Take your seat and wait for that hot fresh bread to come out of the oven and to hit your table. Order up a glass or bottle of Chianti and start perusing the menu.
2. Everything Old Is New Again… and Again… and Again
Nothing triggers nostalgia like food! And Italian food is one of those comfort-cuisines that a lot of people argue about: Some prefer the retro, homey red sauciness of Italian-American classics, while others favor lighter fusion fare.
While many of the dishes at Island Italian fill that red-sauce-and-lotsa-cheese-hankering so many of us have when we think “Italian,” the menu and daily specials here are varied, with interesting new-world twists on old world cuisine, like the popular goofy hybrid of spaghetti-and-meatballs pizza (magnifico!) or the luscious, more nouvelle-style Mahi-Mahi in balsamic glaze with delicate mushroom risotto and Italian green beans.
Whatever you choose will be chock-full of flavor. All sauces and soups, for example, are scratch-made with the freshest ingredients and a whole lotta love.
3. When You’re Here, You’re Famiglia!
Originally from the Northeast by way of San Antonio, “Tag” Tagliaferro brought his brood to Corpus Christi with dreams of selling hot dogs on the beach. The carts were purchased, and everything. Instead, the family ended up opening Island Italian in 1987. Soon to celebrate three decades on the island, the Tagliaferros continue to own and operate Papa Tag’s dream, now under the guidance of son Tony.
Check the menu for certain dishes that honor Tag’s legacy (with a Parmesan cream sauce that some folks might call “Alfredo”): Fettuccine a la Tag, Tortellini a la Tag, Shrimp & Scallops a la Tag, and more. There are other dishes named for other family and friends, too. Mussels Joanne, for example, is a dish named after one of Tony’s teachers. She really wanted to see mussels on the menu! And that’s just how the Tag family operates.
The wait staff is friendly, fun and super-accommodating. Plan in advance for what to do if you can’t finish those huge servings. (Hopefully, your hotel has a mini fridge.) Your server will be happy to wrap it up for you, sending you on your way with some sustenance to enjoy later. On your way out, tip your hat to the sign commemorating one of good ol’ Tag’s favorite sayings back in the day: “Arrivederci, Y’all!”
Come on down to the coast! Make your plans to visit Corpus Christi and Padre Island today. And when you do, make sure you make room for some serious Italian-American cooking. Island Italian is gonna make you some pasta (or pizza or steak or seafood) you can’t refuse.