The Italian Village restaurant was started in 1947 at 651 State St. by Mateo Lombardino, who immigrated from Sicily in 1921. (He later started Lombardino’s restaurant on University Avenue and is pictured in the mural that still graces its outside wall.) Lombardino’s nephew Joe Troia, who went to work for his “Uncle Mattie” after serving in World War II, took over the IV in 1955 as well as opening Troia’s Steakhouse next door.
The Italian Village was known for pizza, and dished up other Italian favorites such as lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli, chicken parmesan, spiedini and Italian-sausage sandwiches.
Bob Troia, Joe’s son and the second of his seven children, recalls that when Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would come to Madison for concerts, they would eat at Italian Village, as did singers Vic Damone, Liza Minnelli and other big names — and Troia had many celebrity photos on the wall to prove it.
Former UW athletic director and 1963 Rose Bowl star Pat Richter ’64, JD’71 was a bus boy at Troia’s when he was a student, and other football players served as bus boys at both Italian Village and Troia’s. Bob says that they would “eat their way through the restaurants — it wasn’t unusual for one of them to eat five or six pounds of prime rib at a setting. … These were big boys.”
Because the two restaurants were so closely connected, Bob considered them one and the same. He remembers sitting in the top window of Troia’s with his siblings and watching the parade when the UW football team went to the Rose Bowl in 1963. There was a lot of camaraderie between his dad and the athletic department, he says. Joe was a “good buddy” of football coach Milt Bruhn, and when the Mendota Gridiron Club came to Troia’s for meetings, “he’d put the feast on for them.”
Bob adds that Joe “knew everybody, and everybody knew him. … He was a special kind of guy.” When Joe was 42, he had a major heart attack, and the doctors were amazed that he survived. He had seven more heart attacks but lived to be 62, passing away in 1985.
Joe owned the Italian Village until 1962, when he sold it to a fellow Italian of Sicilian origin — Nick Safina. Safina operated the restaurant until 1966, when it was replaced by Best Steak House. The location later became home to Rocky Rococo’s, Discount Records, Fuddrucker’s, and Goodwill, and it will soon house the expansion of Insignia, a collegiate apparel store.