When Giuseppe and Antonina Mirto opened Lia’s Mountain View in Pine Plains, NY, they could have only hoped that it would become the community hub that it is today.
Giuseppe and Antonina – better known by friends and customers as Joe and Nina – opened Lia’s Mountain View in 1983. “He saw the backyard, and that was it for him,” says Maria Wright, one of Joe and Nina’s children who now owns and runs Lia’s, in reference to her father. “He just imagined his garden in the back, and that’s where it all began.”
A family that works together
Maria owns and runs Lia’s with her three other siblings: Nick Mirto, Vincenza (Vinny) Mirto, and Rosalie Cort, all of whom have been involved in the family business in one way or another since it first opened in 1983.
All four siblings were born in Monreale, a town in Sicily. The family traveled to America in 1965, following many family members who had already immigrated. They immigrated to America on a work sponsorship, as Joe already had a job lined up in a shoe factory in Brooklyn.
From there, they would go on to own and run a brick-oven pizza shop in Yorktown, but they wouldn’t feel truly at home until founding Lia’s.
When Lia’s first opened, the kitchen was chock-full of love, but sparse on equipment. They had no fryer, no mixer, and only one stove and one oven. Nina used to make all of the pizza dough by hand – something that is no easy feat regardless of how strong your forearm muscles are.
“We didn’t even have menus!” Vinny exclaims. “We had a blackboard where we would write what we had. We started out with none of the equipment we have today.”
But the lack of equipment didn’t phase the Mirto family, who worked hard to provide the town with traditional Italian cuisine. “My parents were old school,” says Maria. “They said if you want this business to be successful, then that means being here from open to close.”
Vinny credits the continued success of the restaurant to their parents. “They raised us to work hard,” she says. “When we opened this place it wasn’t my parent’s restaurant, it was our family’s restaurant.”
On the menu
Since then, the menu has expanded dramatically to include a variety of different original signature recipes such as the Monreale and the Vivace, as well as the dish that is the restaurant’s namesake, the Mountain View, all of which were created by Nick.
“The Burgia is one of my favorite dishes,” Maria says. “I started that recipe.”
In disagreement that is so common between siblings, Nick whips his head around and says, “I remember that Rosalie brought that recipe here,” much to Maria’s chagrin. A few seconds of bickering later, and the case is settled that Maria created the recipe, although Nick is standing a few feet behind her rolling his eyes.
Additionally, Lia’s has its own take on vodka sauce. “We make our vodka sauce from scratch,” Maria says. “Nobody makes it like we do.”
Some dishes on the menu were added specifically for certain customers. “The Joe’s Steak Sandwich is Joe Amelio’s!” Maria laughs. Amelio worked at Lia’s for about 20 years, give or take. The story goes that he ordered the sandwich so frequently that it was just easier to add it to the menu and write “Joe’s” on the ticket, rather than have to write out all of the details of the sandwich.
Maria is also famous for the homemade special dressings that she makes, including lemon dill, green goddess, and Parmesan peppercorn. “If you say ‘lemon dill’ to anyone in this town, they know Maria makes it. People will literally call and say ‘what dressing do you have tonight?’ because they plan their meal around the dressing.”
After being open for over 40 years, it’s hard to choose a favorite memory. Some of the highlights discussed were the grand re-opening following a fire in 2010 that forced Lia’s to close for 18 months.
“The reception that we got from everyone that we were back in business was amazing, and everyone was just so happy to see us again,” says Vinny.
Mackenzie Killmer, who is one of Vinny’s daughters and also works at the restaurant, has had a rather unique experience, as she has quite literally grown up in Lia’s. “Personally, I love when customers come in and they’re like ‘oh my god, it’s you!’, and they remember me being five years old, wandering around the dining room, and eating bread off of their tables,” Mackenzie laughs.
All of the grandchildren have worked at the restaurant in varying capacities at one point or another. Maria remembers all the parties and late nights in the mid-1990s. Lia’s hosted everything from beach-themed parties to karaoke to costume parties for Halloween.
“And Traveling Max!,” Maria exclaims. Traveling Max was a DJ/one-man show that would provide entertainment at Lia’s during these events. “This whole place would be mobbed. We would do the conga line and start in the dining room, go through the kitchen, out the front door, and into the parking lot!” Maria laughs. “I’m sure if you mention Traveling Max to any of the locals, they’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.”
Some of their favorite memories also include the anniversary parties that they’ve held over the years to celebrate the restaurant itself. The biggest one was the 20th anniversary celebration in 2003.
“Rosalie’s husband Paul made life-size, wooden parking signs that looked like Vinny, Nick, and Maria to reserve individual parking spots for them!” Mackenzie laughs. “Many people showed up for that celebration.”
A part of the community
After being a cornerstone of Pine Plains for more than 40 years, Lia’s has undoubtedly made an impact on the local community. “For me, the Mountain View has always been a place where there are no cliques. It’s always been a welcome place for everyone where you can get good food and good conversation,” says Mackenzie.
“It’s a family place where everyone’s welcome,” Maria adds.
Vinny also mentioned that there weren’t many places in the Pine Plains area offered real Italian cuisine in the 1980s. “I think that we also introduced a new cuisine in a way. We had calamari and mussels on the menu, and many people asked us what they were,” he laughs. “We had a little hand in showing people that real Italian food is not just chicken parmigiana or spaghetti and meatballs.”
All of the siblings stressed how honored they are to have been part of the community for so long. “We’ve had so many weddings, funerals, baptisms, and baby showers,” Maria says.
“Don’t forget graduations and birthday parties!” Nick chimes in.
Lia’s has seen multiple generations both inside the kitchen and outside of it. Many customers and friends who frequented the restaurant in the 1980s have since passed on, but many of their children and their own families still visit regularly.
“Some of the people who used to come in when they were little now have children of their own, so Lia’s has seen two or three generations of families coming in,” says Maria.
“It’s so interesting, and you get to become close with a lot of these people,” says Vinny.
Continuing a legacy
When discussing upholding their parents’ legacy, everyone choked up a bit. “I get goose bumps,” Maria says with tears in her eyes. “Look at the picture of when we opened, and look at it now. That is 40 years of hard work to bring it to where it is today.”
“I know they’re proud of us,” Vinny adds. “We owe that all to mom and dad.”
Mackenzie believes that Lia’s has become so much more than what her grandparents initially hoped that it would be, and that if there’s ever a time where Lia’s is no longer there, the legacy of what Joe and Nina built will always be a part of Pine Plains.
“I remember Nonno telling me when I was a kid, he wanted a place where strangers became friends, and friends became family.” •
Lia’s Mountain View is hosting its 40th anniversary party on Sunday, August 6. Tickets will be available for purchase at the restaurant.
To learn more and/or to dine in you can visit Lia’s at 7685 NY-82, Pine Plains, NY, or online at liasmountainview.net or call (518) 398-7311.