Beloved Adelaide restaurant Enzo's has now closed. But as the humble and hardworking family man behind the long-standing culinary institution - Enzo Fazzari - was preparing to hang up his apron, we sat down for a bowl of spaghetti and a long chat with the maestro chef.

A mural by artist Alessandro Barocchi depicts Enzo’s Calabrian hometown.

There has been a surge in Italian restaurants and pizzerias popping up around town in recent years, as Adelaide seems to be transforming into the city of wood-fired pizza ovens, rather than churches. Perhaps we have the Sicilian location of The White Lotus and Stanley Tucci to thank for our obsession with la dolce vita.

And yet, the one restaurant you had the most difficulty booking a table at during May this year was not the hippest new cucina, but the longstanding Enzo’s Ristorante, where humble and legendary Calabrian chef Enzo Fazzari was still working his magic in the kitchen at the age of 70.

Since Enzo announced he would retire and close the restaurant on May 4, the phone ran hot with bookings from customers desperate for one last fix of blue swimmer crab linguine, house-made fettuccine, or Enzo’s steak, which was crowned Australia’s best in 2016. And most importantly, to say goodbye to the chef and his wife, restaurant maitre d’ Teresa Fazzari as well as their son, floor manager Anthony Fazzari.

“I’m humbled by the response we’ve had, I never realised we had such a following. It’s been overwhelming,” says the softly spoken Enzo as he wipes a tear from his eye. “I don’t know what to say. They are not customers anymore, they are friends. I thank them for their patronage.

“I feel a bit sad about it … it was a painful decision. We’ve lasted so long because of our quality and the freshness. My motto that I have always told our staff is: if it’s not good enough for you, it’s not good enough for our customers.”

Since opening the adorably retro Enzo’s at Hindmarsh in 1999, before moving a kilometre up Port Road next to the Entertainment Centre in 2010, Enzo’s has maintained a winning recipe of authentic Italian food served with attentive and respectful service.

Where it all started for him and his brother Damiano (right) before they moved to Adelaide in 1975 and started their first restaurant.

The chef is credited with enriching Adelaide with a greater understanding of Italian food as far back as the 1980s. An interstate food critic once wrote that Enzo’s was, “like a trip to Calabria on a $12 taxi ride from the city”.

Assisted by his right-hand-man, chef Alberto d’Antonio, Enzo prefers to keep to his kitchen and let his food do the talking, while his wife Teresa and brother Damiano take care of the front of house; welcoming guests with traditional Italian hospitality – a throwback to simpler times.

Teresa explains: “The lease was finishing up, and we sat down as a family and made the decision that it felt right to finish on a good note. We’re so proud of our achievements over 25 years.

“The gratitude from customers is the thing we’ll miss the most. We’ve made so many friendships. Our youngest daughter, Natalie, was three months old when we bought the business, she grew up in it, and now she’s got her own restaurant, Enoteca on Rundle Street. It just felt like the time was right for us,” says Teresa.

“The kids need our support and especially Enzo’s expertise and knowledge of food. But believe me, it’s been hard. At times, I take it harder than Enzo does.”

Hailing from Calabria, Enzo and his brother Damiano moved with their parents to the northern town of Domodossola when they were young. Enzo’s most vivid childhood memory is following his mother Elvira around the weekly produce markets.

Enzo Fazzari with his wife Teresa and son Alex in the restaurant office in 2001.

“When I was about eight, Mum used to take me and Damiano to the market. I’ll never forget the quality, the abundance, the freshness. It started from a piazza, and it flowed on for about a kilometre. It was an event every week,” says Enzo.

“The produce was vibrant, clean and green, and my mother was very particular about what she would buy. I learnt a lot from those experiences.” Elvira, now in her 90s, has been a central influence to both Enzo and Damiano with their father often working away as a bus driver in Switzerland.

“My mother came from the country, and she used to go and forage for wild herbs and vegetables. It was very green outside of the town and she knew every plant that she would pick. That’s how we grew up, with clean organic produce. It was great.

“I remember the first time she made meatball ragu in beautiful sauce, and everyone loved it. Then, every second Sunday, I’d watch Mum in the kitchen and I’d help, usually making a mess,” says Enzo. “That’s where it all started.”

Enzo and Damiano have mostly worked side-by-side since they landed in Australia in 1975 with hardly a word of English between them. Enzo, 20 years old, began working as a welder, while Damiano worked as a waiter. Their first attempt at running their own restaurant was a flop.

“Somebody offered us a restaurant in Moana, for practically nothing,” recalls Enzo. “We were silly at the time and we took it on and we lasted about two months. It was an experience.” While that first venture failed, the combination of Damiano at front-of-house and Enzo in the kitchen would later become a winning recipe.

Enzo with his younger brother Damiano who both often tagged along with their mother Elvira to produce markets in Italy.

In the early ’80s, Enzo started an apprenticeship under chef Clemente Fornarino at Rundle Street’s Da Clemente, one of Adelaide’s foremost Italian restaurants, where Enzo learnt cucina alla brace: cooking over coals.

While Clemente was often hard on his staff, Enzo decided that was not the style he wanted to adopt as a manager. “Clemente was a great and intelligent man, we respected one another. I learnt so much from him. But I’ve always been calm in the kitchen, and that’s because I learnt my lesson with Clemente. You must treat your staff well,” says Enzo.

Enzo teamed up with Damiano to establish La Banca – an Italian restaurant within a former bank building in Port Adelaide.

“La Banca, it was a great name,” says Enzo. “It took a month or two, but we were full every lunch service. It was quite successful and we sold La Banca in less than three years.”

Enzo then took a sabbatical in Italy, working a summer in a busy Calabrian tourist town with his cousin, “a god in the kitchen”, from whom Enzo learnt volumes. While in Italy, Enzo and Damiano purchased pasta-making equipment and shipped it to Adelaide, where they established Tutto Pasta on Grange Road.

In 1999, Enzo received a call from Clemente who wanted to sell his restaurant at 308 Port Road. Enzo bought the building and changed the name to Enzo’s Ristorante. It was a hit with the Italian community for its authentic Calabrian fare, which included dishes such as tripe and goat, and the rest is history.

During a private booking at Enzo’s after his Adelaide performance, Andrea Bocelli sang for the restaurant staff: “My hair stood up on the back of my neck,” says Enzo.

Famous guests over the years have included Michael Buble, Jon Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie, and Kanye West. Barry Humphries became a regular. “I met him back at Clemente restaurant,” remembers Enzo. “He comes into the kitchen, hands me a glass and says: ‘I need three cloves of crushed garlic in my orange juice’. He would have that every time.”

In 2004, Andrea Bocelli booked in to Enzo’s after his Adelaide concert, which happened to be on the date of the singer’s birthday. Enzo’s was kept open for Bocelli, who arrived at 11pm.

“The highlight was when he started singing, my hair stood up on the back of my neck, it was incredible,” recalls Enzo. “I was in the kitchen and I made him a braccioletta – a Sicilian dish of thinly sliced veal wrapped with parsley and a good pecorino cheese, and then grilled. I sent it out, and he asked for a second helping because he loved it that much. After that, we put it on the menu and called it Braccioletta alla Andrea Bocelli.”

Today running Enzo’s at Home, sons Matt and Alex have grown up in their parents’ restaurants, working in the business after school – Matt cleaning glasses and Alex as a dishwasher.

“I finished school and started working in the business from day one,” says Alex. “I enjoyed the kitchen and that’s where I picked up a lot of skill watching Dad cook. I went away and became a food technologist, and now I oversee the Enzo’s at Home factory. Matt was better with customers and now he is our sales manager.

“Family businesses are tricky because there’s a lot of passion, and sometimes obligations, and pressure to succeed. The key for us is remembering that we’re family first, and not business partners. Family for us is everything.”

Enzo flanked by his four children Matt, Anthony, Natalie and Alex. The family legacy will continue with Matt and Alex at the helm of Enzo’s at Home, Natalie having recently launched Enoteca Lounge & Cucina on Rundle Street, and Enzo’s floor manager Anthony pursuing cinematography.

Matt remembers that he and Alex paid themselves in lasagna for the first few years while they were building Enzo’s at Home. “To be honest, we weren’t making money for quite a few years,” says Matt. “It was just a single kitchen with a few burners, benchtop tables, and a couple of pasta machines, and away we went making lasagnas and other types of dishes. It’s just grown and grown.”

From its warehouse and factory at Flinders Park, Enzo’s at Home meals are now stocked by major independent supermarkets. Alex says that very soon, they will be selling more product interstate than they do in South Australia.

“Our lasagna was one of our first products and today is our number one seller, and it’s sold everywhere across the country. Once people try our food, they’re in,” says Alex.

“The difference between a restaurant and a factory is substantial. Maintaining the traditional recipes while scaling up is challenging, but I believe we’ve managed to find that balance”.

And if there’s anyone who knows Enzo’s commitment, work ethic and skills better than anyone, it’s his family.

“Ask any of us, we can tell you how tough he is,” says Alex. “There’s something about him that people tend to gravitate towards, and it starts with the passion for food and people just love that about him.

Enzo’s precious recipes will continue through the Enzo’s at Home meals.

“Being able to do what he does at his age is awe inspiring, and it pushes us to strive for just a small amount of that brilliance. He’s 70 this year and he’s still able to do what he does. If we can be half the man he is, we’ve done okay.

“To our staff, Enzo is a father figure who everybody looks up to and wants his advice. I think that’s why we’ve received such an emotional response from this news.”

As Enzo serves a solid helping of a simple yet delicious Spaghetti Assisi – one of his signature pasta dishes (the trick is garlic and lots of parsley, apparently) he confides that if his body wasn’t telling him to slow down, he would want to keep going.

“If my legs were better, I’d probably change my mind,” Enzo laughs. Could this be the last we see of Enzo?

“We never sold the name, so if any of the family decides in the near future to do an Enzo’s, I’m all for it.”

This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of SALIFE magazine.

Words and photos: Ben Kelly