By James Cullum
ALEXANDRIA,VA- Have you tried the Eggplant Parmesan at Aldo’s Italian Kitchen? It’s outta this world! And the Chicken Piccata? Forget about it. Close your eyes and take a bite and you’ll think you’re sitting in a deli in Parma, Italy. Actually, it was in a similar place that Aldo’s owner, Emanuele Cognetti, was raised, and his entire life has been focused around cultivating and preparing delicious food and putting smiles on the faces of his customers.
“My thing has always been caring about the customer,” Cognetti told The Zebra in a recent interview. “We always go out of our way to accommodate their needs.”
Aldo’s Italian Kitchen, at 2850 Eisenhower Ave, has been open for five years, and every day at lunchtime there is a line that goes out the door.
The Old Country
Cognetti was born in the northern Italian city of Parma, which is famous for its Parmesan cheese and Parma ham. His grandfather, Endrea Cognetti, owned a deli and a dairy farm and employed his sons, including Cognetti’s father, Aldo Cognetti.
“I’ve been in the business since I was a baby, around kitchens and food,” Cognetti said. “When I was a little boy I would help out by rolling wheels of cheese, slicing the cold cuts, and making the prosciutto and salami.”
Cognetti attended culinary school, and then sailed around the world as a waiter for the Home Lines passenger shipping company. Before settling in New York City in the early 1980s, he visited the North Sea, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Portugal, and England. Once in the states, Cognetti eventually worked his way in restaurants to Washington, D.C., where he managed chef Roberto Donna’s flagship restaurant Galileo. He then opened Enzo’s, a restaurant with Donna and Enzo Fargione, and after it closed was the manager at A La Lucia for 10 years in Old Town.
Cognetti and his wife, Sylvia, were introduced to the space at 2850 Eisenhower Ave. by friends, who helped in the conceptualization.
Sylvia Cognetti said that Italian food is, in fact, healthy.
“When we go over to Italy, sure they have pasta and bread, but Emanuele’s sisters are my age and they look 20 years younger,” she said. “They’re always active, they’re always with family, they’re always having an event and they’re very close. And also, they eat a lot of vegetables, a lot of salad and a lot of fruit.”
Are You Into Italian Food?
The bustle of business from neighboring offices means that the daily rush is often full of familiar faces, like David LeGrande, a bankruptcy specialist who eats lunch at the restaurant almost every day of the week.
“Emanuele is very personable. You’ll be amazed,” LeGrande said. “If you sit here long enough he will call everyone by name and he knows a lot of things about them, and you don’t get that most places.”
Cognetti said that his heart will always be in Italy, but that the road to Alexandria has been fulfilling. One thing’s for sure, though – just like back in Italy, you’ll always find fresh Parmesan cheese at Aldo’s.
“I always wanted to have my own place,” Cognetti said. “My father was a positive man, and he had a hard life. I think he would be very proud.”
Aldo’s Italian Kitchen is open Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then from 4 to 8 p.m.