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2018-01-03 / Featured / Taste

Sergio’s: the family affair that’s much more than pizza

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Sergio’s Tortellini Milano features cheese-filled pasta, sweet sausage, basil and strips of red bell pepper and portobello mushroom in a pink cream sauce. 
JENNY McQUEEN Sergio’s Tortellini Milano features cheese-filled pasta, sweet sausage, basil and strips of red bell pepper and portobello mushroom in a pink cream sauce. JENNY McQUEEN We’ve all been there: that first glance at a new dish that promises something delicious; that first bite that sends waves of pleasure rippling through our taste buds.

It’s the kind of dish friends recommend to each other, “You have to try X on your next visit, it’s fantastic.” A dish we pine for during moments apart and make plans to visit again.

At Sergio’s in Midlothian’s Market Square Shopping Center, it’s the Tortellini Milano. The dish features cheese-filled pockets of pasta surrounded by sweet sausage, basil and strips of red bell pepper and portobello mushroom dressed in a pink cream sauce. Add a pear and gorgonzola salad and some garlic rolls – heavenly hunks of bread drizzled with olive oil and encrusted with parmesan – and you’ve got yourself a meal.


Cindy and Joe Conigliaro, owners of Sergio’s in Midlothian, specialize in pizza and Italian-American comfort food. 
JENNY McQUEEN Cindy and Joe Conigliaro, owners of Sergio’s in Midlothian, specialize in pizza and Italian-American comfort food. JENNY McQUEEN Though the 27-year-old restaurant is locally renowned for its pizza, owner Joe Conigliaro knows the Tortellini Milano is the gem of the menu: “Everyone loves it,” he says, sitting at a booth in a tight black Sergio’s T-shirt that reads “Legalize Marinara” on the back next to a basil leaf.

Born in New Jersey to Italian parents, Conigliaro moved with his family back to Sicily when he was 10 years old. Ten years later – and after obtaining a degree in accounting and serving a year in the Italian Navy – Conigliaro’s parents, Vito and Carolina, returned to the United States and bought Sergio’s in 1991. Named for the son of the original owner, Sergio’s was a third of its current size, serving pizza and subs only. The restaurant had been in operation for just a year before Vito bought the business and asked Joe if he would help run it.

Conigliaro previously hadn’t planned on returning to the United States, but took his father up on the offer, drawing from his experience working at his family’s restaurants in Northern Virginia.

While his Italian pedigree is without question, Conigliaro says Sergio’s is much more about Italian-American comfort food than authentic Sicilian cuisine.

“You don’t see spaghetti and meatballs in Italy” for example, he says. “You would do them separately.”

While Conigliaro is always tweaking the menu, he makes sure to keep customer favorites like the tuna salad. Pizza continues to be the staple of the menu, with options including a Mediterranean style – covered in feta, olives and pine nuts – and a sundried tomato and artichoke option.

Most of the recipes are created by Conigliaro, including the Tortellini Milano, which has been on the menu for nearly two years now.

“We just tried to put some different flavors that we like together,” he says. “I like alfredo, but sometimes it can be too overpowering. We mixed it with a tomato sauce, and it’s been a crowd pleaser ever since.”

The only recent change to the restaurant’s pizza preparation is the ovens, which were replaced a year-and-a-half ago. Conigliaro says he felt bad for his old machines: in 25 years of service at Sergio’s, the ovens had only required about $90 worth of maintenance.

“They were workhorses,” he says.

Sergio’s has expanded twice during the years, taking over a former shoe store next door, then a pet grooming business next to that. A bar was established in the latter, serving up 30 craft beers in rotation.

“IPAs are definitely a crowd favorite. That’s my biggest selling beer,” he says, adding that variety is key in the craft beer world: “The craft beer drinker isn’t loyal to any one brand.”

Additionally, Sergio’s has a special connection to Steam Bell Beer Works; Steam Bell owner Brad Cooper did test runs of his beer at Sergio’s before opening his brewery. One of Steam Bell’s most popular concoctions, the Tiramisu Stout, came out of a collaboration between the two businesses.

“I told him I wanted to do a beer with him,” says Conigliaro, who handed Cooper a piece of tiramisu, the beloved coffee-flavored Italian dessert. “I said, ‘Here are the flavors I’m looking for.’ ”

While Sergio’s continues to subtly morph with the times – and will soon add online ordering – the restaurant is still a family affair: Conigliaro co-owns the business with his wife, Cindy, while his daughters Jessica and Gabi, his sister Marisa, his sister-in-law Rosie Aguilar and his stepdaughter Dalia Aguilar all work at the restaurant.

Asked if he had any reflections on becoming a staple of Midlothian’s dining scene, Conigliaro says he’s mainly grateful: “We just appreciate everyone’s loyalty over these last 26 years.” ¦

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