There was always something cooking in the kitchen at Felix and Caroline’s place.
Spaghetti, ravioli, veal and peppers, and eggplant parmigiana were generally on the stove and in the oven. Petta’s Kitchen at 134 Duane Ave. opened in 1951, and fans of Italian food have been visiting ever since.
“A lot of them grew up in the neighborhood,” said Michael Petta, the third-generation owner of the restaurant — between Hulett and Craig streets — that is observing its 60th anniversary this year. They might have moved to Niskayuna or Rotterdam, but often return for clams, stuffed peppers and linguine inside the large, wood-paneled dining room.
Petta knows why.
“I think our food is good,” he said. “We have homemade breads that are made from scratch. We have homemade blue cheese dressing. We make our own meatballs, we make our own soups.”
Felix and Caroline Petta started their restaurant on property across the street from their home. The site had once been the location of a barn owned by Canali’s Bakery. The bakers had delivered their bread with horse carriages.
The Pettas prospered in the working-class neighborhood and soon added a banquet room. Their son Pete began working at the business, first as a bartender. Caroline passed away during the late 1950s and Felix died in 1971. Pete took over operation of the restaurant.
Pete and his wife, Betty Disco Petta, had four children, and the family spent time at home and at work. Michael became manager during the 1970s. Daughters Lynn Petta, Kathy Wolfe and Terri Shannon also made contributions. Lynn worked as a waitress and is now head bartender and banquet manager. Kathy also worked the bar, and was head bartender before moving on to a job in the private sector. Terri waitresses and bakes Petta’s desserts.
The Petta’s staff has entertained celebrities over the years. Actor Anthony Quinn was in once, and so was basketball star Elvin Hayes. Hayes was in town for a game against the Schaefer Brewers, the local hoop all-star team of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1961, television stars Howard Duff and Annie Fargue visited for a late-night dinner. The actors had just finished performances in the play “For Love or Money” at the Colonie Summer Theatre in Latham. Duff had recently wrapped up work in his canceled NBC adventure series “Dante.” French actress Fargue’s comedy series “Angel” had ended its short run on CBS in June.
Wolfe remembers the sensation the late visit caused at home. Pete called the house, woke up wife Betty and insisted she come to the restaurant to meet the performers.
Pete Petta died in 1989. Betty passed away in 1998.
Wolfe also remembers when former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, visited in 1999.
“Hillary loved it here,” Wolfe said. “They were on a vegetarian kick at the time and she and Chelsea loved the eggplant.”
Some people may have visited Petta’s for the familiar faces. Mike Petta said some waitresses and cooks — among them Louise Verlotte, Ann DiCerbo, Florence Senese and Esther Hogan — worked at the restaurant for more than 40 years.
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