Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Historic L.A. food sites: Sarno's on Vermont

Not so long ago...here's a photo from Sarno's Caffe dell'Opera on Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz, (now Vermont restaurant) which was there up until July, 2000.
According to the L.A. Times, Alberto "served up Puccini nightly with the pasta, drawing a clientele that included Sophia Loren, Jimmy Durante, Gina Lollobrigida, Tony Bennett, Mario Lanza and—when he was in town—Alberto's friend, Luciano Pavarotti."
Check out the groovy font on the Lithographs sign on the left. When I was a young'un, Vermont Ave. was this cosmopolitan street with a French bookstore, German bookstore, European deli, Chatterton's bookshop, record shops...of course, it's got plenty of trendy boutiques now, but it was even cooler back in the day. Does anyone remember Sarno's?

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Sarno's Bakery, Mrs. Sarno always gave kids a cookie. Dino Sarno, who was the bakery side of Sarno's, with his mother and daughter made the best cannoli in the city. At Christmas time Dino made torroni, it was a treat. The daughter Angela, with her husband, runs a little cafe across the street called Mama Mia. At one time Vermont Ave. had 2 Italian delis along with Sarnos. I miss the good old days!

Anonymous said...

I remember well when Vermont was a street of bookshops. And stopping in Sarno's bakery to get a bag of cookies to munch. Yum!

Anonymous said...

Growing up in then very dull, very quiet Pasadena (in the 60s & 70s), Los Feliz represented the cosmopolitan world. A real walking street with restuarants, Chattertons and movie theatre that showed foreign films. I do rember Sarno's!

oddlyme said...

Their rum cake!

Even after the restaurant closed, the bakery was still open. Wow, was it good....

Scott said...

I lived in the apartments up the street 1993-94.

Sarno's was still there, as well as the Italian deli across the street. I got food from that deli many, many times as the food was good and it was dirt cheap. Looked like it had been there for 40 years. Definitely had an East Coast vibe. The 1994 Northridge quake kind of messed up the street, and after that a bunch of the old businesses closed up and went away.

Ellen Bloom said...

I worked in the Hollywood in the late '70's. We used to have lunch at Sarno's quite often. Excellent desserts!

Michael said...

I feel that they left the old Sarno's signs on the building in honor of the old place.

Anonymous said...

What no one is mentioning is why Sarno's struggled so much, which is that the mom and dad Sarno's were murdered after leaving the restaurant and robbed of the day's receipts. Cops arrested a boyfriend of a former employee,,and hard core gangster, but the jury let him walk. I almost got on the jury and wish I wasn't booted off because I would have loved to convict them.

I will try Mama Mia's across the street...the place was fantastic.

BLT said...

Never went inside but I spent an ungodly amount of time under that awning waiting for the 436 bus to Eagle Rock. Thanks for the shelter, Sarno's!

Anonymous said...

Michael, the sign is still there because Dino Sarno, The Baker, still owns the building.I understand he is doing well, from his daughter. I miss that bakery, the did a Cassata cake that my mom got every year, for her b-day cake.

Anonymous said...

Vermont was the best street in LA, now it's just another like Melrose.

Anyone remember Andre's Deli? He didn't raise his prices on great sandwiches for 20 years. (It went downhill near the end, though).

How about George's? Great neighborhood coffee shop. Best undiscovered huevos rancheros in town.

And of course there was Onyx, and the Mondo a Go Go video store, and middle eastern grocery with fresh feta cheese...

Now we have fancy food and too many clothing shops. Bleh.

Anonymous said...

It was actually the brother, Alberto, that was murdered. I never remember seeing the father, it was always the Mother, sons Dino & Alberto and Angela the daughter. A great family, from Chicago, I believe there is still a Sarno's bakery in Chicago.

silverlake bodhisattva said...

in my flu-induced haze, I remember Chatterton's, Sarno's, and the days, pre-Onyx, when the Vista was a gay porn house.

. . .and of course, the "noir-ish" side of the Sarno's story* reminds me that the sudden disappearance of "Tepparod Thai", one of the first Thai restaurants in the 'hood (IIRC, on Melbourne just off Vermont) turned out to have possibly had some connection with the murder of Budhhist monks
in Phoenix, Az.. . . .


Sounds like we have the the beginnings of "Fallen Angels, The Restaurants (true crime and food in los angeles) "!(Which would need to include the true story of the "Spanish Kitchen" )


*Silverlake Los Feliz has always been more than a little noir-ish, long before James Ellroy started invoking it; IIRC the grocery store in "Double Indemnity" was on Vermont.. .

Steve2 in LA said...

I used to pick up pastries there for the cast and crew at the Mark Taper forum. It was a perennial favorite and a wonderful place to visit. Always a shame when the old places fold.

Sandy S. T. said...

Sarno's was the only place on the west coast which always had sfogliatelle. When I moved back to LA from NYC in the late '80s I was very glad to find it (LA Italian bakeries are notoriously generic, except for stuff like rum cakes and cannoli).

Anonymous said...

Other bakeries had/have sfogliatelle, but Sarno's was the best! Maybe with all these great memories we can get Dino & Family to open up a small place again! Just Cannoli, Sfogliatelle, Cassata Cake, Strawberry tarts, Rum Cake and Bah Bah Ah Rum, just the classics and of course the Torroni at Christmas!

Deanna said...

We, my brother, his wife, myself and other dearest friends lived in the neighborhood in the late 60's while we finished college. Since then I have thought of Sarno's often and all the many wonderful meals and good friendship that we shared there. On a whim I decided to see today if it might still be there knowing how much I would love to go back. How disappointing that it has closed! Also, Great Lengths next door was the one stop store for all of our Christmas shopping, wonderful and beautiful gifts some of which are still in
the family. Such memories, such dear and good times. Deanna

Anonymous said...

My husband and sons used to deliver strawberries to the bakery, and our family got to know Dino and Donna quite well! John went to Dino's brother's funeral, and was overwhelmed by the beautiful opera pieces sung by several guests. We miss seeing them, but I send holiday greetings every year.

Anonymous said...

My husband and sons used to deliver strawberries to the bakery, and our family got to know Dino and Donna quite well! John went to Dino's brother's funeral, and was overwhelmed by the beautiful opera pieces sung by several guests. We miss seeing them, but I send holiday greetings every year.

Anonymous said...

DEAR ANONYMOUS....I AGREE WITH YOU. I DREAM ABOUT SARNO'S CANNOLI AND SFOGLIATELLE,ETC. EVEN IN ITALY I COULDN'T FIND BETTER. I WISH DINO WOULD DO IT AGAIN. I AM A FORMER EMPLOYEE. I WORK IN THE BAKERY WITH DINO AND HIS MOM. THEN, ALBERTO HIRED ME TO WAITRESS IN THE RESTAURANT. I LIVED IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND WORKED FOR THEM FOR MANY YEARS. I HEARD SOME TIME AGO, THAT SOMETHING HAPPENED TO ALBERTO BUT, I DIDN'T KNOW THAT HE DIED. WHAT A WASTE OF A GOOD HUMAN BEING WHO USED HIS TALENT FOR OPERA TO MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY. MY MEMORIES OF SARNO'S AND THEIR FAMILY WILL LIVE WITH ME FOREVER. I LIVE IN JERUSALEM NOW AND NEED TO APPLY FOR MY SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS SO, I WANT TO TALK TO DINO ABOUT THE PAPERWORK,CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO CONTACT HIM? RSVP:
bhavani.eden@gmail.com

sparky16 said...

I lived in the are while I was in high school. I remember going there alot during my high school days and my first years in college. (1968 - 1974). The neighborhoold was very quiet and spacious and crime free. We loved
hanging out at Sarnos. They had the best Cannolli and my girlfriends and I used to love to listen to the old folks sing. I miss those old days in Los Felix.
I remember walking alot from Hillhurst and Sunset to Los Felix for exercise. I used to go to Our Mother of Good Counsel Church and sometimes we would have dinner at Miceli's. But my favorite place was Sarnos and the quaint bookstores and shops. Sadly nothing like that neighborhood anymore. I miss it all including the fountain near Griffith Park.
I do have fond memories though.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on rum birthday cakes twice a year for me and my brother. I always hated it because I wanted to have the white cotton cake with strawberries all the other kids were getting on their birthdays. Blame it on 80s tv.

Now I have a hankering for rum cake and nothing can compare.

I loved the smell and convincing my mom to buy us cookies when we happened to be waiting out front for the bus.

Captain Fazmo said...

I was wondering if this could be the same Sarnos Pastry Shop that my father worked for? He worked for a bakery in Chicago called Sarno's Pastry Shop which I believe was purchased by Andrew Salara. My father, Jimmy Selvaggio worked there since he was 14 and eventualy purchased the bakery from his father-in-law Mr. Salera. I remember my dad speaking about Al Sarno and I believe he mentioned that he moved to california. It would be great to know.

Anonymous said...

another fan of the sarno's cannoli. Nothing compared. I have never had a better dessert in my life. Their cappucino was excellent, too. Oh I miss them! I went there every weekend and they had many regulars. It was always fun to people watch. The Sarno family is a neighborhood legend. We all loved them.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Sarno's...every birthday, Mom would drive from Montebello for their rum cake...ah the smell of the place, how I miss it. And my dad loved singing arias with his friends there...and wandering around Chatterton's...I'm getting all choked up.
I miss the good ole days, truly. It's been so nice to read these other posts. What a lovely time it was.

Anonymous said...

Sarno's was a wonderful part of my life in the mid 70's! I was 17 and would go there with friends, we felt so grown-up and sophisticated. Drinking my first cappuccino, first Italian dessert,my first introduction to Opera! I imagined I was in NYC..
The regulars would sit at the big table in the front and take turns singing, anyone could sing. Alberto was the best of all.
I am now 52 and can still taste & crave their Chicken Salad!
My daughter (17) was in a Opera Youth Group when she was younger, she loved it and performed in professional operas with Met stars.
All thanks to my Opera introduction at Sarno's 30 years earlier!!!
If anyone has the recipe for their chicken salad I would love it!!!!

Wayne said...

I delivered wedding cakes on weekends for Dino Sarno in the late 70s. Dino was a big bear of a man with a black moustache. Quite a character. He paid in cash for each delivery, and I fondly remember attempting to renegotiate rates when I thought he wasn't paying enough for a delivery. I delivered cakes all over Los Angeles. His Uncle Jerry decorated the cakes in the back where all the baking was done. Dino held court in a small office behind the bakery cases. I loved the strawberry tarts and the little chocolate chip cookies. I took a girlfriend to the restaurant one Saturday night. Anyone who wanted to could get up and sing. At one point, a little old lady in a nightgown and slippers got up and belted out an aria with great gusto. I do believe they started out in Chicago and moved out to LA in the 30s. It was a wonderful family operation, and I'm sad to hear it closed and of the nature of Alberto's passing. I hope Dino is still in good health. He had a gruff exterior, but once he showed me a photo of a cherry 1938 Cadillac convertible he had restored. It was sky blue with a white top and sparkling chrome...a real masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

there will never be another like sarnos. i am a former employee and relative and i can honestly say it was the best desert ive had in my life. i have shared some of the best times of my life in that bakery along with all the customers. nothing will ever compare to the old world craft of sarnos pastry. i was so sad to see it go but cherish all the memories.

Anonymous said...

Sarno's restaurant was my first job and I remember Alberto, the owner, his brother Dino,the ladies I worked with, Freda, Jane, CeCe. I was very sad to hear about him being murdered needlessly. He would have given you the shirt off his back. I would be able to eat the food at lunch time-what a treat. And the entertainment was great with all the opera singers and movie stars. I am glad to have had the experience of working there and knowing the family and customers. Bless you all- Marilyn

Natalia Budilo said...

This comes from two former employees - one from each side, the restaurant was Vera and the Bakery was Natalie. WE both grew up on Sarno's - like so many of you. What a fantastic time we experienced while working there, with stories to take us through a lifetime! The people we met, served and worked with - were unforgetable and Vera and I have been reminiscing all evening. We worked there during 1972-74ish, with Karen, Suzy and Maria on my side and Marilyn M., Genie, CeCe and Helen on Alberto's side. His death is a tragedy, miss Dino and would love to see him. Maybe a reunion of past employees and customers could be arranged? I will check to see if 'Mama Mia's is still in business. You can contact me at reinterpesq@yahoo.com for Vera, myself or if you'd like to help and plan something. We agree with those of you who have stated that never have ther been deserts ANYWHERE comparable to Sarno's. What I wouldn't do for a Marasala wine cake or a French Rum cake or A RUM BABA WITH CUSTARD! Please come back to us...or at least give us the recipe's, I'll bake them myself! Dated: 9/26/09

Anonymous said...

I agree absolutely the best pastries on the planet, the rum cake was my favorite,and my father Pasquale friscia loved to sing opera there!

adaino said...

My name is Anthony Daino, My father Gaetano was a regular customer and good friend of the Sarno's. When Dino attended my wedding in 1986 it was a great honor. Over the years we have lost touch. If anyone knows how to reach Dino please have him contact me at avdaino@roadrunner.com. Thank-you

oli said...

I work at Children's Hospital and since '74 we used to buy the rum cake for someone's birthday. I was just telling someone I would make the cake if I had the recipe. It would be great if I could get a photo of the rum cake and then have some professional tell me the components.

claudia said...

I loved Sarno's restaurant. I was either in my late teens or early twenties when I ate there. The Lasagna was excellent, and I still vividly remember the Italian pastries, really colorful, with tons of whipped cream ! I miss it !

paula servetti said...

I feel the need to comment and inform certain people on here that first and foremost Dino Sarno is alive and well. And also, Ma and Pa Sarno were not murdered nor robbed. I donn't know where people received this information. Al was shot in, I believe 1987 and I was at his funeral. Thank you...Paula

Anonymous said...

Hello, I grew up eating Sarno's cake every year, several times a year. Every birthday, lets do Sarno's! if anyone from the bakery reads this, please, please, please post a recipe for the rum cake with the vanilla/chocolate pudding with the almonds. Yum, yum! thank you.

Karen said...

My father, Ben Shane, and I would go to Sarno's many nights after working out at the Hollywood YMCA or after a movie in the late 1970's/early 1980's. We enjoyed the food and the crowd, but most of all we enjoyed the entertainment. There was a piano player, and most evenings, a very robust white haired lady who would stroll from table to table belting out "WHEN...THE...MOON HITS YOUR EYE LIKE A BIG PIZZA PIE....THAT'S AMORE!" Her voice was quite piercing and unforgettable. We enjoyed Albert singing, as he was usually the best voice in the house. Occasionally, there would be some real stinkers and after they finished singing, my father would yell "One more time..." and then under his breath...he'd say "Outside!" That line was repeated throughout the years with much endearment. My father had a million of 'em.

Theresa Z. said...

I just found your site, I am so happy to see a picture of Sarno's again. The memories that I have of their pastries and cakes are great ones. Their rum cake was a staple at birthdays at my house and after school my Dad would take my brother and I to get a slice of cake. I have been telling my Son about it for years, now I can send him the link to your site to read about Sarno's.
Thank you!

dwindibim said...

OMG...has the amazing Sarno's Bakery closed? I now live in beautiful downtown Boise, Idaho, where there is a HUGE lack of wonderful Italian bakeries (especially Sarno's!). I used to live in Van Nuys, and my husband and I used to make SPECIAL trips (plural) to buy all kinds of fan-
tastic pastries (and especially bah bah rum cakes...there was so much rum on them already, and then
they would ask if you wanted more
rum when you bought them! Oh, how I wish I could send for some right now, and some sfogliatelle (it was the best)!!!!!!!!!

Debi (Brown) Bradway said...

My grandparents owned the dress shop next door to Sarno's (Florence Dress Shop ).
This was during the 50's and '60's. Everyday after school we would go to the dress store to visit our grandparents and always go next door where they would always give us a cookie. It was like one big family. You are all right they had the best cannoli and little fruit topped custard tarts.

On February 9, 1971 the day of the big earthquake we drove down Vermont and many of the windows ( including the shoe store across the street) were broken and people were taking things out of the storefronts. Sad to see.

Anonymous said...

Four Generations of our family shopped there regularly and I was teethed on this amazing and incredible food. As a child, there wasn't anything I didn't like from Sarno's Bakery.

I really LOVED the fresh bread which no one has mentioned. Does anyone know what kind of Italian bread they would make fresh. It had a crispy skin but soft fresh inside topped with a few sesame seeds. The smell of the bread was outrageous as a small child i would smell it and it had this rich freshness like nothing else I have eaten or smelled since. It would also pull apart with such ease and was amazingly delicious. To this day (I am now a grown and married) I have not been able to EVER find a bread like this. With the internet I was thinking if someone knew I could get a close second somewhere in the country or a recipe to make it or atleast know of its type or kind. They called it Italian bread and it pulled apart in pieces. If you know please mention it as I would love to find out what I was eating as I am still in pursuit of it today. The reminder of the smell is still in my nose today and I will pursue its finding until I do. Maybe the family members that are living still make the family recipe somewhere else. Help me find this incredibly amazing bread as nothing compares for this Italian girl.

Anonymous said...

someone anonymous said that mom and dad were murdered for their receipes, funny how people get their stories twisted. they were NOT murdered, Mamma Sarno lived to be well in her 90s. there will never be another sarnos, definately a landmark.

Anonymous said...

Sarnos was a part of my past. Their cannoli was to die for and their rum cake to kill for! What was the real story behind the closure? I've heard some pretty scary rumors!

mia967 said...

i have only the slightest memory of Sarno's, i was a kid last time i was there. i grew up on stories about the old place though. my grandmother, who was from northern italy, was a waitress there for a good while and it was also my mothers first job and the place where my mother and father met. i used to love listenin to the stories they would all share over the dinner table, and feel that it is a part of my history in a strange way.

Anonymous said...

We moved from New York to No. Hollywood in 1975 and celebrated all the family birthdays, and holidays with Sarno's delicious pastries and rum cakes. Oh what memories!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember Villa DiMarco's - it was a great deli and restaurant next door to Sarno's in the 1960's?

Denise Smith said...

My parents and I went to Sarno's right around Thanksgiving to pickup an order placed from Jean and Dick Thornton in Las Vegas Nv. Every yr we would go esp. for the Rum Cake. We we related as my grandfather was Alphonso Sarno out of Toledo Ohio. My mom make jackets for every one in the Bakery with the family logo on it. I still have a bottle of wine from Italy made in 1982. Thanks

Jennifer said...

My grandfather was the head baker at Sarno's. He was commissioned from Naples, Italy to come and bake for Sarno's. I remember as a child going there and visiting my grandfather. We would go into the back where all the magic would happen. Every time we went we were given some sweet treat. My mom, who was married in 1973 had Sarno's make her wedding cake.She grew up in this area. She also attended Our Mother of Gopod Council Church. That is where she was married. My grandparents only lived a few blocks from the bakery. And when my brother sister and I were born my grandfather would make all our birthday cakes from Sarno's. We had such great memories there. Most of my childhood was spent there.

Anonymous said...

I lived in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz area for almost 19 years. I loved the food and atmosphere at Sarnos and its one additional special ingredient: live music and singing from the opera stars who would occasionally drop in after a concert or to just keep in good voice... Friendship, Italian food, wine, pasta, atmosphere, singing - a recipe made in heaven to say in love with life. Haizen

Adam Prowse said...

I just found your site, I am so happy to see a picture of Sarno's again. The memories that I have of their pastries and cakes are great ones. Their rum cake was a staple at birthdays at my house and after school my Dad would take my brother and I to get a slice of cake.

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Ricardo Calderon said...

I have searched the world over for a good rum cake like Sarno's. Perhaps in Naples someday. I like the rest of you grew up in Los Feliz Village going to Sarnos every chance I got. I have to confess even though I was just a little kid I had a crush on the Claro girls. They were really pretty with their long brown hair and beautiful eyes and smiles with pretty dresses wearing their white aprons sometimes covered in flour. Often time too busy to notice the boys. Happy memories. Claro's was a part of our family rituals birthdays, picnics, trips to the beach, you name it we were there. I know how much you all miss Sarno's. To help you taste the past I will share a couple of places that will help bridge the time. The closest I have come to the rum cake at Sarno's is the Sacripantina Cake from the Stella Pastry and Cafe in San Francisco's Little Italy and for the little cookies I have found Claro's Italian Market in San Gabriel; Claro's also have a few other locations in Upland, Tustin, Arcadia, Covina and La Habra. Thank you to the Sarno family for all the memories.

Anonymous said...

Some of my happiest times growing too place at Sarnos. I am 64 now, but still remember how wonderful it all was.