Toms Brook’s Sue Eldridge knows pizza. So when the New Jersey native migrated from Garden State to the Shenandoah Valley in 2013, she feared she would never find a restaurant that feels right at home again.
For years, she and her late husband Jim have preferred the food and family atmosphere of Nino’s Pizza near their home in Ewing. It was named one of New Jersey’s Top 10 Pizzerias – no small feat during the pizza boom of the 1980s – and the Eldridge’s were classic regulars. While they sometimes tried other Italian dishes from competitors scattered around the area, they always came back to Nino’s.
Nick Silvestri from Zepp also knows pizza. The owner of Italian Touch in Woodstock was raised in an energetic family fueled by food and love. His father, Ugolino “Nicky” Silvestri, was born and raised in Bacoli, Italy, and brought his expert chef skills to the United States in 1976. With business acumen and pasta sauce in his veins, he has enjoyed great success with several restaurants over the years.
“I loved growing up in the business,” Silvestri said in a recent interview at a table in the Italian Touch dining room. “As far back as I can remember, I was hanging out in our restaurant. I mean, I have to go to work with my dad, right? Nothing better.”
Like most boys, Silvestri believed his father was the best at anything he had ever done. “I just knew my dad’s stuff was the best. But I think the older I got the more I realized the guy was on the next level. Even now, it’s like I still don’t know what he’s doing with the food and the cooking. I don’t know what it is, honestly. He doesn’t even use a recipe.
Long before Nick learned his own way in the kitchen, at only 6 years old, he was happy to pick up a rag, wash dishes and talk to customers. “I was just a kid, I was giving customers difficult times. Maybe even make them smile, ”he said.
Years later, in 2001, the Silvestris moved to Virginia and bought or opened several restaurants, including Italian Touch in Woodstock. Time will tell if their Jersey accents and unabashed Italian flavor would tie into the Shenandoah Valley.
If anyone was in doubt, the answer came in April 2013.
As Sue and Jim Eldridge settled into their new, quiet life in the area, they were eager to get a taste of home again. A friend suggested Italian Touch, and it didn’t take long for them to become regulars. “I remember eating a calzone and telling my husband Jim that this food was different from other places. It’s real. Its good.”
The food was familiar and comforting, and a few visits later, it wasn’t just the taste she recognized. “I remember sitting there and watching Nick at the cash register,” Eldridge said. “I kept watching and finally told my husband that I wasn’t quite sure what it was other than the guy who had really beautiful eyes.”
A minute later, Silvestri stopped at their table. “I could tell they weren’t from here by the way they spoke, so I just started asking questions, like about the food. Basically just getting to know them.
For several minutes, they connected the dots in New Jersey and areas outside of Trenton. “And when I saw Nick’s eyes up close,” Eldridge said. “I just knew something was going on. I told him there was something so familiar in his eyes.
Familiar indeed, as it was not the first time that Nick Silvestri had stood at their table.
Thirty years earlier, Nick was that energetic little boy who followed his father around Nino’s Pizza and made his customers smile. “I just knew it!” Sue said. Between the eyes and the best Italian food she had eaten since she had eaten Nick’s father’s food three decades earlier, New Jersey transplants knew they had found a piece of home.
“It’s an honor, isn’t it?” Said Silvestri. “To have someone remember your food, your restaurant, your father’s talents all those years later?” “
“Don’t forget the eyes,” Eldridge teased.
“Good,” Silvestri laughed, and he rolled his eyes that she remembered so well.
Since that reunion over eight years ago, Silvestri and the Eldridge have become friends on Fridays, with the couple coming every week for their favorite tasty reminders of their former lives. They fell in love with food and friendship so much that Jim asked for Italian Touch to be one of his last meals before he passed away in 2020.
In memory of her husband, and because she feels so at home, Sue can still be found most Fridays giving her friends at the restaurant her traditional hard time. “We even have nicknames for each other,” Sue added with a smile. “He’s the lazy king.”
“And she’s Slacker Lady,” Nick replied with a smile.
It’s quite a recipe – great food, teases, laughs and memories.
Just like the family.