Lorenzo's Restaurant, in business more than 80 years on Lake Zoar, has built a reputation as a place to relax with family and friends and enjoy home-style Italian food.
The family-owned restaurant, founded in 1926, was originally a small take-out stand at the end of Riverside Road. Since its founder, Louis Lorenzo, expanded it in the 1930s to include a bar and dining room, it became a landmark in the Riverside neighborhood.
When Lorenzo's first opened, Riverside was an enclave of summer cottages near the lake. Over time, the cottages were converted to year-round living. The restaurant now claims to be the state's oldest Italian eatery.
"I've been coming to Lorenzo's to eat all my life," said Paul Tani, 64, of Philo Curtis Road, enjoying a pizza with his wife Carol one night recently. "My favorite meal here is boneless New York sirloin steak."
The Tanis devoured a large pizza, half pepperoni and half mushroom and onion, while couples from nearby towns and Riverside, came to dine.
Linda Hurley, of Riverside, and a friend, Bruce Campbell, ate a pizza and relaxed with a few drinks at the bar.
"I was a waitress here for about 13 years in the past. I still help out sometimes. It's a great place," Hurley said.
Ken Schielke, his wife Denise and their daughter, McKenzie, 4, of Oxford, also came to dine. They eat at Lorenzo's about twice a month.
"This is our favorite place," Denise said. McKenzie added, "I like the cheese pizza."
Joel Abramson and his wife Doris, of Southbury, stopped in for their first time. "It was recommended by friend," he said. He chose chicken cacciatore. She selected lasagna.
Lorenzo's is regarded as a top place in Newtown for pizza. But, Laurie McCollum, who cooks and manages for her father, Paul McCollum, the present owner, said half the restaurant's business is comprised of pizza and the other half, dinners.
Pizza ranges in price from $10.25 for a medium with just cheese to $21.95 for a large with cheese and six toppings. Dinners cost from $11.95 for cheese ravioli to $13.95 for lasagna and $20.95 for a premium steak. Children's portions are available for less, such as $7 for spaghetti with a meatball or sausage. The menu also includes appetizers, grinders and deserts.
"Customers are drawn by our home cooked food, based on family recipes from my grandfather, Louis Lorenzo, and my dad," Laurie said. "We use my grandfather's recipes for meat balls, pizza dough and tomato sauce. My dad makes our sausage."
She said escargot with garlic butter, one of her father's specialties, is a favorite appetizer among patrons. "We sell tons of escargot," she said.
In its early life, Lorenzo's catered more to a summer crowd, but as the years rolled on it evolved into a year round business.
"We can be busier on a day in February than in July," Laurie said. "Sometimes, it can be quiet here. Other times, like last weekend, we have standing room only."
"I grew up in this restaurant, and I've worked here on and off over the years," Laurie, 51, said. "All in all, our people are wonderful. We have the best customers in the world. Sometimes, I'm very busy and they help me bring out the food."
Dining hours are 5 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday 5 to 9:30 p.m. Lorenzo's is closed Monday and Tuesday.