LACONIA — Tony Martelli’s younger brother was stricken by bouts of asthma, and when his condition required him to stay home from school, so, too, would Martelli, to take care of him. It was during those days that Martelli learned of the mix of cooking and entertainment exhibited by Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet,” who taught a young Martelli that to cook for someone is to show them your love.
“I’ve always been cooking, since I was a kid,” said Martelli. On March 10, he opened the doors to Martelli’s at 644 Weirs Boulevard, in the same building that was home to Christmas Island Steakhouse for decades.
Martelli’s is the embodiment of its namesake’s twin loves: food and entertainment.
Though those might be where Martelli’s heart lies, it took him a while to get there. Martelli entered the Navy as a young man, where he worked as a server in the officers’ clubroom. That put him in close contact with trained chefs, who showed him that great food didn’t have to be mysterious or complicated.
His Navy experience also qualified him for a career in private security; however, the microphone beckoned.
For 20 years, Martelli has sought a stage, singing the best-known songs of his favorite artists: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and, especially, Bobby Darin. Local audiences might recognize him as a frequent performer at The NASWA’s Blue Bistro, where he has visited each summer for the past 11 years, excepting 2020. Martelli plans to hire himself as the entertainment at Martelli’s, starting in April, as soon as he can find a cook to spell him from the kitchen.
But before entertainment, he is focused on the food.
With a nod to the tradition already established in the building, he set his price points in line with what Christmas Island patrons were used to: entrees are between $25 and $32, appetizers are $12-$15, salads are $12 and soups are $7 or $8. The pub menu offers subs, pizzas and paninis.
Martelli’s recipes are all his own, he said, and reflect his own approach to food: “Everything’s fresh, it’s simple ingredients,” he said. “Let the flavors come out for themselves.”
Asked for an example, he pointed to his Tuscan Ribeye: a steak marinated overnight in olive oil and Italian seasonings, grilled and topped with a fried egg, served with an arugula salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and shavings of fresh parmesan. Martellis suggests ordering a chianti, or vodka martini, to go with it.
This isn’t his first foray into the restaurant business. He signed a lease on a restaurant in Hillsborough just before the pandemic hit. That space had a lot of outdoor seating, and he did well there until the cold weather arrived, and he had to walk away from it. In his down time he offered home chef services, but decided that, pandemic or not, now was the right time to get into business on Weirs Boulevard.
With many condominium developments nearby, there are a lot of potential patrons living close by already, he noted, stressing that he wants to be open year-round for local residents. And with more condos being built in Lakeport, the restaurant’s futures are only looking brighter, Martelli said.
He found a welcoming landlord in Doug Landry, a local contractor who had been operating Christmas Island Steakhouse for the past few years. How does a contractor come to own a restaurant? Landry’s short version is, “I drank too much one night.” The longer version is that he has a business partner who lives behind the restaurant, and they would often meet there to talk shop over drinks. In 2017, when they learned that prior owner Tony Roux wanted to divest of the real estate and the business, Roux’s manager proposed an arrangement wherein Landry would buy the property and she would operate the business. That deal lasted about a year, leaving Landry, inexperienced in the world of restaurants, running his own and, as he said, wishing every day for three years for someone to relieve him.
That wish was finally granted by Martelli, who wasted no time in hanging his own sign and opening his doors. He plans to renovate the lounge as a tribute to the Las Vegas “Rat Pack” era, and the exterior to evoke thoughts of Tuscany.
“It’s a unique dining experience,” Martelli said of his vision for his restaurant, placing the emphasis on “experience.”
“The restaurant and the lounge are my two passions in one place. I love food, I love to serve food, and I love to entertain,” Martelli said.