North Redondo’s neighborhood hang

Brogino’s has remained largely unchanged, except for new murals inside and out.

Brogino’s has been serving comfort food Italian on Artesia for 46 years

In the ‘80s I shared a somewhat decrepit old house in North Redondo with a couple of oddball roommates, and as a matter of course we scoped out all the restaurants within walking distance. We had cars, and they even ran sometimes, but it was fun to explore the neighborhood at ground level. We had tacos at El Indio and Calimex, souvlaki from Louis Burgers, and when we were feeling like old-school Italian, headed for Brogino’s. There we dined on pizzas and pastas in a space so cluttered with vintage photos, real and fake plants, and other bric-a-brac that it verged on psychedelic. That establishment was a particular favorite because all meals included a huge portion of soup and salad, suitable for starving students and those who weren’t actually studying anything but lived the same lifestyle.

Of all those establishments, only Brogino’s is still in business, and it’s still owned by Tony Afsar, who has run the place since 1979. It’s not quite the same inside as it was, because the bar was expanded and more murals were added, but except for Old Tony’s on the Redondo pier, it’s probably the least changed restaurant in town. Until this week I hadn’t visited in about a decade, so I took friends who are new to the area for dinner.

The decor at Brogino’s is a cheerful clutter of local history, Italianate paintings, and real and fake plants.

They admired the exterior murals and interior décor, and studied the menu avidly before ordering. That took a while, because the selection is huge, and the lighting dim. The three of us ordered full dinners, including the soup and salad. Even though we knew the portions were immense, we also selected a starter described as asparagus with roasted sesame seeds. Italians usually eat asparagus simply flavored with butter or oil and garlic, and sesame isn’t a common ingredient in Italian cooking, so we wanted to see how well it worked. As it turned out, the vegetable was lightly cooked and served over a pool of olive oil and balsamic, and was topped with toasted sesame, parmesan cheese, and a sprinkle of parsley. It was an odd combination that worked fairly well, though I might have preferred it without the balsamic vinegar.

That’s an ingredient that the chef here obviously enjoys, because it is used liberally in many items, and in the dipping sauce for the garlic bread that arrives at every table. It’s wasted there, because the bread is toasted with a buttery and slightly salty garlic spread and doesn’t absorb the dip well. It would be more appropriate with untoasted bread, which I assume you could get if you asked. The salad dressing is also very vinegary, and some grated mozzarella would help balance the flavors.

The soup here is described as minestrone, a tomato-vegetable soup that is usually made with a vegetarian or chicken stock. Brogino’s uses a stock made from beef bouillon powder, and as such has a richer, more intense flavor and consistency than diners might expect. If you like a beef-vegetable soup Italian style then this is for you, but those who prefer lighter flavors and textures might want to order starters rather than the combination meals.

The chicken Sardegna at Brogino’s is a meal for one starving person or two with normal apetites.

Our main courses were chicken Sardegna, fettuccine Alfredo, and eggplant Florentine that came with a side of angel hair pasta. The Sardegna doesn’t appear to be related to anything actually eaten in Sardinia. They do eat a lot of chicken there, but it’s usually braised or stewed in sauces that include citrus, and where they use ham it’s an unsmoked prosciutto. Brogino’s version is a cream-based sauce with mushrooms, smoked ham, artichoke hearts, and spinach, flamed in brandy with peppercorns, and then poured over grilled chicken and served over bowtie pasta with a sprinkle of parsley. It’s distinctly Italian-American, and like everything else here, the portion size is twice what you’d get anywhere in Italy. I liked it and would have it again, though I’d probably ask them to go lighter on the sauce.

The fettuccine Alfredo was American-style too – Italian Alfredo gets its richness from an egg whipped into the hot pasta along with butter, pepper, and cheese, while the American version depends on cream. I prefer the Italian version but don’t expect to get it at most modestly priced restaurants because it is more time-consuming to make. The version here was decent though light on the cheese. Pre-grated parmesan is in a shaker on every table, and helps matters, though it doesn’t have the flavor of the fresh product.

We were happiest with the eggplant Florentine, which was both the simplest dish and the one that was most traditionally Italian. The vegetable was sliced and sauteed with butter, then layered with spinach, marinara sauce, and mozzarella, then baked and topped with parsley. (I mention the parsley because some people are allergic to it, and though it is liberally used in many dishes, it is not listed anywhere on the menu.) This preparation showcases lightly cooked vegetables and a good marinara sauce, and the one they make here is fine, indeed.

We had no room for dessert, but I tried one of those when I came back two days later with my wife for a starter of fried mushrooms and a pizza. The mushrooms were served piping hot in a crisp batter, along with some more of that marinara sauce. As we tore into those, it occurred to me that the warm marinara sauce would be a much better accompaniment to the garlic toast than the vinegar and oil.

Brogiono’s will make a pizza with different toppings on each half, as they did with this one.

My wife and I have different visions of the perfect pizza toppings, so where establishments will make a half and half pie, we often order that. Brogino’s was happy to oblige, so our pizza came from the kitchen with anchovies and eggplant on one side, sausage, spinach, and olives on the other. The crust was medium-thick and nicely crisp at the edges, but soft in the middle, the cheese abundantly applied and very stringy. They breaded and fried the eggplant, which made the flavor a bit more mild, and were generous with the anchovy. I tried one slice and appreciated it, but was much happier with the side that had my preferred toppings. They made good pizza here 40 years ago, and they still do.

Brogino’s has a well-stocked bar and makes the basic drinks, but this isn’t really a mixology place. I had a Manhattan, but stuck with wine otherwise. The pours are generous and the prices modest, and though I ordered the Freakshow Cabernet because I found the name amusing, I liked it enough that I may buy a few bottles for home consumption.

None of the desserts offered are made in house, but they offer Bindi brand sweets from Italy. The tiramisu is not bad, though it lacks the slight alcohol bite and coffee powder bitterness that I prefer. I’d guess that Brogino’s doesn’t sell a lot of desserts, because I saw takeout bags departing from almost every table.

Brogino’s is good at being exactly what they are, an unfussy, modestly priced, rather quirky place for Italian-American food. They’re headed toward half a century of serving North Redondo, and since they were busy on both visits, I’d bet on them nourishing another generation of locals.

Brogino’s is at 2423 Artesia in Redondo. Open daily at 4 p.m., close 9 p.m. Mo. throughThurs. Close 10 p.m. Fri. and Sat. A small lot or street parking. Full bar, wheelchair access good, volume level low. (424) 292-8227. Broginos.com

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