More than 20 years ago, club disc jockey and sandwich-shop owner Steve Martorano left South Philadelphia for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
With only a few bucks in his pocket, he started a restaurant in a strip mall, Cafe Martorano.
Steve's shtick was a hit, as it were - mob movies playing on TVs, Sinatra crooning from the speakers, the red gravy flowing, the late-night crowd dancing amid the tables.
A few years ago, the casino operators came calling, and Martorano opened in Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., and at the Rio in Las Vegas (and, this fall, at Paris in Las Vegas).
He's soft-opening Martorano's this weekend at Harrah's Atlantic City, replacing Luke Palladino's restaurant.
Martorano's, a white-tablecloth Italian whose black-and-white design mixes Old World (tiled floor, street-scene murals) with sleek marble, white walls, a DJ booth and a collection of disco balls.
Yes, disco balls. Remember that he used to be a DJ at Valentino's in Cherry Hill.
Don't go seeking food substitutions on dishes such as his Eggplant Stack, South Philly Cheesesteak, Rigatoni Sunday Pork Gravy, and Bucatini Carbonara.
His kitchen won't swap ingredients. You get the food the way he wants it served. As the menu says at the bottom: "Just let me do what I don't break balls." (I assume he is referring to meatballs.)
"The customer is not always right," he said simply during a break last week during the restaurant's set-up.
Don't go seeking a quiet experience after 10 p.m., Martorano says. It gets loud in there.
Fortunately, he said, the Atlantic City crowd will understand him. Unlike the Florida and Vegas contingents, who had to be educated, "we all know what broccoli rabe is."
Here's a great backgrounder on Martorano by the Daily News' Chuck Darrow.