Local legend at New York University holds that an aging math professor, one Harry Peach, used to travel the world each year, returning with his suitcase bulging with various trinkets, gimcracks and knickknacks. He then would take the stuff home and nail it to the walls of his apartment. And not just pictures, but huge silk ties, postcards, plastic statuary, stuffed animals, commemorative spoons and souvenir maps.
Whether Peach actually existed is in question, but if he did, Steven Peck certainly must have been his protege.
Peck is the owner of what is probably the gaudiest restaurant in Orange County, Angelo's and Vinci's Cafe Ristorante in Fullerton. It is an interior designer's nightmare, a gawker's paradise, a trattoria gone slightly amok. It is as if Peck, in the pack rat tradition of Harry Peach, glommed onto every piece of esoterica he could get his hands on during trips to Italy and Sicily and stuffed the items into every cranny of his place that would hold them.
Which is exactly what happened. For the past 15 years, since A and V's opened in 1973, Peck, a professional actor and choreographer, has turned his restaurant into a not-so-mad hatter's shrine to 1) his parents; 2) tasty and highly aromatic Italian and Sicilian food; and 3) show biz.
It helps that the main dining room is on the stage of an old vaudeville theater. The restaurant takes up half of a large building that it shares with the Fox movie theater. At its opening in 1918, the Fox was used for legitimate theater and vaudeville. When it was converted to a movie house, the proscenium was walled off to accommodate a screen. Today, on the other side of that wall, is A and V's dining room.
Mirrors line that wall, but diners can look up at the original colored stage lights, above which is a 90-foot ceiling supported by red brick walls. There's even a huge piece of scenery from 1921, a painted backdrop of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, hanging from the rafters.
That's the conventional stuff. The rest of the place is a riot of mirrors, neon, white Christmas lights, cherubs, monsters, knights in armor, Mona Lisas and broad Italianate sentiment. And all of it, or almost all, has one unifying theme, said Peck: his parents.
First, Peck said, his mother loved Leonardo Da Vinci; his father favored Michelangelo. The hybrid became Angelo's and Vinci's. His mother loved cherubs and his father was fond of knights. So, throughout the restaurant, in nooks here, corners there, inlaid into walls and fluttering from eaves are cherubs and knights. Peck--whose real name is Stefano Ignazio Apostle Pecoraro--even erected what he calls a "love altar" on the west wall of the dining room, a kind of display case for photos of his parents and other family members.
In the basement, the theater's former dressing room area, is what Peck calls the "monster wine cellar," where figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong, all behind bars, guard about 3,000 bottles of wine. And on the roof of the indoor bar is a year-round Nativity scene.
Peck said that the restaurant's style (if there truly is a single style) is Italian Renaissance. The inside patio is designed to look like a Sicilian trattoria , and the outer patio, with its umbrellas and creeping vines, could be a Roman cafe.
Perhaps the best part of browsing around A and V's is the opportunity to walk from the main dining room to the front patio area. The route takes you through the kitchen, where the smell of spices and garlic is enough to make the Italian food devotee weak in the knees.
The menu declares that Angelo's and Vinci's is "A place to eat. A place to see." Many visitors have no trouble doing either.
ANGELO'S AND VINCI'S CAFE RISTORANTE
Where: 516 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton. Phone: 879-4022.
Menu items: Pizza from $6.25, lunch entrees from $4.75, dinner entrees from $5.95. Pasta, veal, chicken, fish dishes. Food to go. Lunch buffet weekdays. Banquet facilities and catering available.
Hours: Open seven days a week. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight.
Curiosities: Inner and outer patio, main dining room on old vaudeville stage, "monster wine cellar," "love altar," photos of Steven Peck's acting career.