When Gary Lanfranco, owner of the Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill, was forced to move his longtime downtown Fresno restaurant to a new location, he hoped most of his loyal customers would follow him.
They did. And so did others, lots of others.
Open for just two weeks, customers have packed the restaurant’s new and much larger location at O and Ventura streets near the Selland Arena.
“It has been overwhelming,” said chef Joe Lanfranco, Gary’s son. “We have sort of been in shock at the response.”
For decades, this family-run operation has been a favorite Fresno haunt, known for its cozy, if not dated, bar and restaurant. The food was affordable, the service quick and the grub was always satisfying.
Although not in the best of neighborhoods at Fresno and G streets, the old restaurant attracted a steady clientele of downtown workers, police officers, politicians and farmers. They came for the classics like, the succulent tri-tip sandwich, juicy burgers and New York-style pastrami sandwich.
But as the state’s plans for high-speed rail began to unfold several years ago, the Lanfrancos realized they were in the path of construction and would have to move. With the city’s help, they purchased a piece of property on O Street that was once part of the Selland Arena parking lot.
It became a new beginning for the Lanfrancos, especially Joe Lanfranco, who had a large say in the design of the restaurant, kitchen and menu.
The new Cosmopolitan restaurant bears little resemblance to the old space. The new restaurant has an open floor plan with plenty of natural light and comfortable seating. For the first time, patrons have an option to be waited on or to seat themselves and order at a counter, much like at the old restaurant.
Longtime Cosmo customers will notice some original decor, including a regulator clock from the 1930s, a cash register that dates to the turn of the century and a hefty safe that’s been in the family for generations.
They even brought along the 1937 bar back from the original restaurant. It’s been cleaned up and given some art deco touches including stained-glass panels.
Joe Lanfranco, who began working at the restaurant as an 18-year-old dishwasher, prides himself on what he calls good old-fashioned, made-from-scratch cooking.
He uses as many local ingredients as possible and relies on his recipes and those of his mother and grandmother.
Although Cosmo, as many call it, is well-known for its lunch crowd, Joe Lanfranco wants to cultivate a following for its dinner menu. Restaurant favorites including veal ravioli, Chilean sea bass, and a 9-ounce filet mignon with red wine espresso reduction.
They also have several specialty pizzas, including the “Dante,” a pie with red sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, crispy calamari and red pepper flakes. And the Cosmo’s burgers are a half-pound, hand-formed patty that are topped with everything from grilled pastrami to Worcestershire aioli. The buns are baked by Max’s artisan breads.
In the fall, Joe Lanfranco plans to offer braised short-ribs and lamb shanks.
“We want to be known as a local downtown restaurant that has good food, good drink and in a clean and comfortable atmosphere,” he said.
The restaurant may also stay open later than the normal 9 p.m. closing time to try and catch those attending various events at the Selland Arena, Convention Center or Saroyan Theater.
To hear his son talk about the future of the Cosmopolitan pleases Gary Lanfranco. After 48 and a half years at the helm of the restaurant, he is ready to let his son take the reins.
“When Joe came to me and said that he wanted the restaurant to continue, I was thrilled,” Gary Lanfranco says. “He has the most unbelievable work ethic I have ever seen. And I want to do everything I can to support him.”
During a recent lunch rush, Gary Lanfranco greeted customers, helped clean tables and checked in on the kitchen to see what was needed.
He admits he doesn’t have any hobbies and will probably continue working until he is unable.
“This is like my country club,” Gary Lanfranco says. “All my friends are here.”