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Bites Nearby: Papa T's in Tolland

This home-style Italian restaurant just off the highway has been a local fixture for nearly 30 years.

Papa T’s has a family feel.

Maybe it’s the lunch counter stool upholstered with the colors of the Italian flag -- the one at the end where Papa T himself used to sit…

…Or the all-you-can-eat Sunday pasta special…

…Or the fact that this Tolland restaurant just off the interstate has been here so long that the regulars’ children, now adults, stop in on their way through Connecticut.

In any event, Papa T’s is in many ways still the family place it was in 1982 when Anthony V. Tantillo Sr., a builder by trade, opened it in an otherwise empty strip mall. He put his then-19-year-old daughter, Patricia, in charge.

Her parents have now passed on and the large mural of Roman columns is no longer on the dining room wall. But the secret pasta sauce and meatballs at Papa T’s are still made using her mother Eleanor’s original home recipe, says Patricia – now Patricia Fox. And hundreds of thousands of pizzas later, the dough recipe is unchanged, too.

More importantly, perhaps, Fox still maintains the standards she established in ’82 when she was working there from 6 a.m. to 11 at night.

“You have to serve people quality,” she says.

The restaurant makes all its soups, salads, lasagna and some dessert items fresh each day, Fox says. It also uses top-of-the line ingredients – Grande cheese, for example -- even when prices jump and pinch the bottom line.

“Sometimes you take a beating,” Fox says, but to keep customers coming back “you’ve got to take it.”

And they do keep coming back.

On Friday nights, the kitchen typically puts out 100 pizzas. Friday is also the night when fish is featured. It can be anything from mussels to scrod. Lobster rolls will go back on the menu soon, too, now that summer has arrived.

The family gets a real break on Monday nights when it can get a one-item pizza and pitcher of soda for $13.99.

And then there is Sunday where, for $7.50 per adult and $3.75 per child, everyone gets as much pasta as he or she wants, served family-style with salad and bread.

“If you want eight bowls of pasta, we give you eight bowls of pasta,” Fox says. (There is an additional charge for meatballs, she says, but observes that they are so large that one can serve two people.)

Papa T’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, beer and wine; and, if you want it that way, pizza by the slice.

The restaurant has a number of popular calzones and pizza specialties, (the buffalo chicken pizza “is to die for,” one customer said) but its veal, paninis, wraps and burgers are big favorites, too. The eatery produced 300 of its popular breaded chicken fingers for a Tolland High School graduation party recently.

Fox, a lifelong Tolland resident, no longer works the long hours she once put in, but her restaurant staff still contributes to its neighborhood appeal. Head chef Patrick Ryan, 30, started working there when he was 17, then returned after college and cooking school. Similarly, Papa T’s waitresses Brenna Rhodes and Shannon Shearn have been greeting customers for more than a decade each.

As she does her customers, says Fox, “I try to treat my employees well.”  

Papa T’s, 64 Merrow Road, 875-2048, is open seven days, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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