By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
On Saturdays at Stoney Point, a gourmand picking up a takeout dinner order may be met by a trim, distinguished gentleman in a dapper suit gamely offering to caddy one’s bags to the waiting car.
That gentleman is Amedeo Costantino, the 87-year-old owner of Stoney Point and a local living legend in Pasadena’s fine dining history.
“I started Old Town,” said Amedeo in a loud stage whisper. Joined by his daughter Roberta, who serves as the ostensible general manager of the enterprise, Amedeo recalled his storied forays in the local restaurant scene.
The Costantinos took over Stoney Point in 1994 but the opening represented the culmination of a journey that started in Naples.
“He worked as a busboy in Naples at the age of 12,” Roberta said.
Working for a large restaurant that employed over 160 people, he eventually became a bartender with his own operation.
“I used to have a bar in Naples, then I moved up north to the Riviera,” Amedeo said.
Amedeo opened his first restaurants independently on the Italian Riviera, the second in the seaside town of Varazze. Meanwhile, an older brother settled in Southern California and began bringing the remaining five siblings over. Amedeo and his wife, Antonietta, arrived in 1972 but didn’t join the brother. As Roberta said, “Thank God we didn’t go there. He was in South Gate.”
Instead, the Costantinos settled in Pasadena. Amedeo initially consulted for Anthony’s Deli in Arcadia, before establishing Primo Gourmet, on South Lake in 1976.
“In 1981, I opened the Italian Fisherman. It was the very first restaurant in Old Town,” Amedeo said.
Roberta added, “When Old Town was like, you had to be walked out to your car. It was terrible.”
At the vanguard of Pasadena’s redevelopment of its decrepit former downtown center, Costantino qualified for a $30,000 grant from the city to open the restaurant.
Occupying the main floor of the historic Braley Building on Raymond Avenue — now the home of the Scientology center — the Italian Fisherman soon became a local fine dining fixture and provided a critical spur for the revival of Old Town.
“It was gorgeous,” Roberta said.
With seating for 160 guests in its main dining room, recollections of The Italian Fisherman are still evoked by former patrons of that era.
“I want to go break a wall there,” Roberta said. “We had all the exposed brick with beautiful paintings like frescoes done and then they covered them up with drywall.”
Meanwhile, by the mid-1990s, the venerable Stoney Point’s previous owners abandoned the restaurant.
“Stoney Point was shut down for tax evasion. These brothers — Adolfo and Alfonso Mares — they persuaded my father to open this place.”
The Mares brothers were working with Amadeo and now, more than 25 years later, they can still be found supervising the Stoney Point’s front-of-house bustle. Loyalty is a theme here.
During this time, the Costantino family empire continued to expand. Roberta opened Bella Sera on Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia, while the family matriarch Antonietta launched Café Sole, which still operates under new owners in nearby La Canada.
Speaking of her mother, Roberta noted, “She’s in the kitchen now. She busts his (Amadeo’s) chops.”
Peeking through the kitchen door, Antonietta was seen through a plume of steam wafting from a huge pot of boiling pasta.
When the pandemic lockdown arrived last March, the Stoney Point pivoted quickly. The restaurant closed for two weeks and the staff was paid. By the first week of April, the operation was back up and running for delivery and takeout. The Stoney Point’s customer base rallied to the cause.
As Roberta recalled, “I can’t tell you, it brings me tears. The customer support was amazing.”
Amadeo interjected, “We have very, very loyal customers.”
Roberta continued to elaborate, “One of our good customers made color fliers and stuffed them in every single mailbox in this area. One man would walk by once a week and say, ‘Charge me $100.’ He wouldn’t even get anything. ‘Charge me $100.’ Amazing.”
When outdoor dining was permitted, the lovely, tented pavilion that seats 40 patrons was swiftly constructed.
“We jumped on it (but) we paid through the nose,” Roberta said. “Do you know how hard it was to find tents and stuff?”
Their landlord charged extra for the outdoor lot space as well. The outdoor accommodations added $3,000 to their monthly exposure.
“You’re making less, and you have to support more,” Roberta added.
The Stoney Point’s menu has not changed much over the years and that’s the point. The ferocious loyalty of the restaurant’s following is grounded on a confidence in the experience’s reliable consistency.
Ask Amadeo for menu favorites and he will point to the lamb chops ($33.95) with a Dijon mustard sauce and minced Kalamata olives, or the rigatoni Bolognese ($19.95). Roberta noted the sand dabs ($26.95) with a lemon caper sauce and the endive salad ($15.95) with crumbled blue cheese, walnuts and grapes. She describes it as being “off the charts” with the regulars.
In the old days, the Stoney Point experience included lively activity at the bar on Saturday evenings. With a baby grand piano at its far end, the Stoney Point’s bar hosted talented amateur singers, often dressed in gowns and black tie. With the pianist playing from sheet music supplied by the singers, the scene brought new meaning to the idea of karaoke.
There was a raucous elegance to the sonorous commotion at the bar. It didn’t always land well with diners seeking a slightly more placid dining room, but it was only happening at the Stoney Point.
The Stoney Point is not so much a step back in time, as a step outside time. It exists of itself, for itself and delivers its blend of casual continental sophistication and neighborhood affability with flawless consistency. And that guy in the suit with the takeout bags? He started Old Town.