After Friday night’s episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, people across America now know what legions of faithful fans of Mrs. Robino’s came out on this sweltering summer night to celebrate: the restaurant has enjoyed generations of success because of food and family.
It had been five months since the show’s incomparable host and food-tester Guy Fieri visited the landmark Little Italy eatery and hundreds of longtime patrons couldn’t have been prouder of the recognition and being on site as the episode aired for the first time.
Decked out in a pretty black dress and sandals as host of the viewing celebration, chef and fourth-generation owner Andrea Minuti Wakefield said she had to turn away customers all week who tried to make a reservation for August 2nd. When you run a beloved establishment that’s been serving happy diners for 80 years, there’s going to be no shortage of customers excited to see one of their favorite places featured on national television.
And that was certainly the case as 175 lucky diners enjoyed dinner prior to watching the DDD episode, which aired at 9:00 pm. While she was an exuberant host of the festivities, Wakefield still had a restaurant to run and hungry patrons to serve. Her time on the floor welcoming customers was intermittently speckled with disappearances into the kitchen, evidenced by the poofs of white flour on the front of her dress. “They needed me back in the kitchen to help make pizzas,” she said with a smile.
Just as any busy night, waiters streamed out of the kitchen, dashing to tables with large trays of ravioli, homemade lasagna, Italian Porkette and Robino’s classic spaghetti dish – the runaway menu favorite. “Andrea, we only have two trays of spaghetti all day,” screamed one waiter as he flew past Wakefield during the peak of the dinner rush. Turns out he was joking. “Our wait staff likes to have fun – they-re always joking. Of course, we would never run out of spaghetti,” she said.
When video of Wilmington landmarks started rolling at 9 pm sharp on large flat-screen TV’s placed throughout the restaurant for the occasion, diners were quickly mesmerized. Then the camera zoomed in on the old green and red Robino’s sign that has graced Union Street in Little Italy for eight decades.
Fieri asked Wakefield to make two dishes – beef ravioli and beef braciola – from scratch. Typically, the high energy personality prefers to interact while filming with as few people as possible, like owners and a head chef. But in this case, he caught sight of Wakefield’s brother Joey Minuti making row after row of handmade beef ravioli using an ancient pasta making machine and couldn’t resist the opportunity to start cracking jokes about the monotony of the effort. He pretended to videotape Minuti with his iPhone and said things like, “I’ve already screened four new shows for The Food Network. I just got back from the mall where there was at a shoe sale, and I just returned from washing my Camero.”
When Fieri asked Wakefield about the generations of customers her restaurant has served, she replied, “We get a lot of birthday parties, christenings, family celebrations, and we even get parties when people die.”
Fieri loved that.
He knew that this was a place – in his vernacular – that was “the real deal.”
Fieri taped episodes at six restaurants in Wilmington in February. This was his first time visiting Delaware since the program began airing in 2007.
Rebekah Powell, who lives in West Chester, said she and her family have been coming to Robino’s since before she was born. “My mom always tells the story about how I was very little and seemingly enjoying a delicious plate of spaghetti and I got red sauce all over her white shirt. As I got older, I fell in love with the food and fell in love with their sangria, which is probably one of the best drinks I have ever had. And then my mom messaged me on Facebook to say Triple-D was coming to Robino’s, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh – I love Food Network, I love Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and the fact that Guy Fieri was here – it was just so exciting.”
Rebekah‘S parents Jim and Robin Powell started dining at Robino’s 30 years ago, when they first started dating. Jim said, “This place is family.”
Rebekah said that right after their family placed their dinner orders, they noticed that Guy Fieri ordered the Beef Braciole. “So we ordered one of those for our table and it was so good! This place has been around forever, I mean, there’s just so much history. You can taste it in the food and see it in the décor. It’s just awesome,” she said.
Archmere alum and parent Jim Pace has been coming to Robinos for 40 years – first with his family as a young child, now with his own. “A gentleman on the radio once said that ‘It wasn’t that the Eagles or Phillies were all that good. Over the years there were big moments, low moments. But it was all about the people you were with and the things you celebrated.’ And that’s what makes this restaurant special. It’s generational, it’s comfortable.
“It’s the events that are celebrated here – whether it’s first dates, high school graduations, christenings, Sunday dinners with mom – that’s the stuff that makes a place special, and that’s what Wilmington has always been about. Wilmington is very colloquial and people know where to gather.”
Pace, like just about everyone else there on Friday night, said they were glad Robino’s made the Triple-D hit list. “You know, it’s fun getting the recognition. Wilmington doesn’t always get the press. This is probably the biggest thing to happen here in a long time. It’s kind of good to get the plug, and Robino’s deserves it.”