Although Gregg Matteucci grew up in Fairview, a little town near the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, many of his strongest memories are tied to a home in southeast Portland in historic Ladd’s Addition where his grandmother lived. Sundays were centered around family.
“Every Sunday, rain or shine, it was dinner at Grandma Tucci’s house,” he laughs. “There were about 15 of us squeezed into her tiny house. The dining room table only sat about six people so we would put the kitchen table at the end of the dining room table and then the card table on the end of that.”
Grandma Tucci was Mary Matteucci. Her parents immigrated from Sfruz in Trentino Alto-Adige to Michigan where Mary was born and the family worked in the coalmines. They eventually moved to Portland and not long after the move, Mary began working at the Lido di Venezia Restaurant in the building that housed Italian produce row. The restaurant opened very early in the morning to serve breakfast and coffee to the truck farmers.
Gregg has vivid memories of weekend visits to Grandma Tucci’s house. Friends and family would stop by and everyone would sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee and sharing the latest gossip or reminiscing about the old days.
“Everyone sat around my grandma’s table. Sometimes the conversations were in Italian, sometimes in English. Sometimes I don’t think they knew what language they were speaking but they all understood each other.”
Mary’s husband, Primo had immigrated from Ponte Buggianese, a town located between Florence and Pisa. They met in Portland at a popular dance hall. They not only shared a love of dancing but of cooking as well, although their cooking styles were completely different.
“My grandmother had never cooked with tomatoes, wasn’t exposed to a lot of tomato dishes and she always talked about how my grandfather had to have tomatoes at every meal. He was by far the better cook,” Gregg laughs.
Mary worked at the Lido for nearly 50 years, doing a little bit of everything in addition to cooking. A love of cooking has passed down through the Matteucci family – Gregg and his mother spoke often about opening a restaurant of their own.
In 2001, Gregg was driving through Lake Oswego when he spied a new building for lease. He got about three blocks away before he turned around to get the phone number.
“I was looking at the building and thinking that someone should open a restaurant there,” he says. “I called my mom and we called the leasing company. The first thing they wanted to see was our business plan. We didn’t even have one; we just thought it would be fun!”
After getting a second chance to make their presentation, they signed a lease and Tucci Ristorante opened. Named after his grandmother, the restaurant was an instant success. In another nod to his Grandma Tucci, the restaurant features the original Lido neon sign in the Lido Bar.
“The Lido was already closed when the building burned,” Gregg remembers. “I was able to save the sign before the demolition.”
Having traveled extensively in Italy, Gregg has come to appreciate the Italian philosophy of cooking with local foods and supporting local farmers. It is a philosophy that he uses at Tucci and shares with Executive Chef Jeff Emerson. Tucci has its own garden plot at a local farm where they grow basil, eggplant and summer squash. They also buy produce from other farms. By the end of summer each year, they are getting about 98 percent of their produce straight from the farm.
Chef Kurt Spak, former owner of Alba, has recently joined the Tucci family, bringing years of expertise with pasta production to the menu.
It is difficult to choose a favorite dish at Tucci, but the Pappardelle Lamb Ragu and the spaghetti top Gregg’s list. “I love our spaghetti, it is so basic and simple and so flavorful.” When asked his go-to item at home, he confesses to making a fantastic meatloaf. “Everyone likes my meatloaf! I use a mix of beef and veal and pork.”
While he has worked predominately in the restaurant business, very few know that Gregg is also a licensed funeral director in Oregon, getting his start at Holman’s Funeral Home. He still works with Holman’s occasionally.
Over the years, family genealogy has become an obsession. Gregg has connected with family members all around the country and is looking forward to hosting a family reunion at Tucci this summer.
“I am very proud to be Italian, and the older I get the more I honor my Italian connection,” he stresses. Community involvement is also important to Gregg and he supports Italian community events in Portland, as well as educational and architectural interests.
And Sundays? They are still centered around family.