Surrounded by large windows facing out to Henderson Bay and sitting near a warm fire blazing on the stone hearth, Massimo and Cindy Terracciano tell the story of their lives. Their love, marriage, family and restaurant — no one part of it more important than the other — blended seamlessly together, creating a delicious and satisfying whole dish.
Cindy was in her late teens when her father, who served in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Naples, Italy. She fell in love and when her parents moved on to the next assignment, she stayed behind with Massimo, who was studying at the Culinary Institute of Naples.
Culinary school was a natural progression for Massimo Terracciano. As he was growing up, it was commonplace to be in the family kitchen. In Terracciano family tradition, everyone learned an appreciation for good food and everyone learned the skills necessary to help put family meals on the table.
He worked in some of Naples’ finest restaurants for about 10 years before heading to Germany to open three small Italian restaurants with his brothers in the Cologne area. The restaurants thrived but soon it was time to move on. As the young couple had been traveling to the United States annually to visit her family, they decided to take a giant leap.
Cindy Terracciano’s parents had settled in the Olympia area when her father retired, having served his last assignment at Fort Lewis. When Massimo Terracciano explored the Puget Sound region, it reminded him somewhat of his home in Naples, and he thought it would be a good place to bring his family and start the next chapter in their lives.
Working in Seattle and Tacoma, the couple continued to look for just the right spot to open their own restaurant. They fell in love with Gig Harbor and Il Terracciano was born. A large storefront on Judson Street was soon converted to a warm, inviting, lively Italian restaurant, but Massimo Terracciano longed for a water view.
One day he saw a “for lease” sign at the present location. His heart leapt at the view and the prospect of his dream of a waterfront restaurant coming true. He pursued the idea of the waterfront location, sold the Judson Street restaurant to its present owner and opened Massimo Italian Bar & Grill in 2008.
Son Salvatore, now 29, is the right-hand man in the kitchen. Massimo Terracciano is basically the director of operations, seeing to the daily running of the enterprise. His wife manages the behind-the-scenes work, wearing the hats of bookkeeper, personnel and housekeeping manager, etc.
Together, Cindy and Massimo Terracciano have planned the menu, which seldom changes from year to year. They flex their standard menu with their daily specials, which gives the kitchen the opportunity to take advantage of seasonal ingredients and creativity in designing new dishes.
“We frequently have customers call to ask what the special is when they are looking for something special or extraordinary,” Massimo Terracciano said.
Seafood is prepared in many traditional Italian ways. The fresh-fish vendor knows the restaurant prefers wild-caught, sustainable seafood to farmed and requires it as fresh as possible.
“It is the most-prized seafood in Italy, and I was so happy to have it,” he said with a glint in his eye.
Purchasing seasonably available products also helps hold costs down. Not only have the items on the standard menu remained constant, so have the prices.
“We have not raised our prices since we opened because we want our customers to be able to depend on us for good quality and value for what they pay,” Cindy Terracciano said.
“Good food, good wine, love of cooking and love of family are all the things I love the most about owning a restaurant,” he said.
The menu reflects fine dining dishes from his native Naples, in southern Italy, but he also is an astute businessman and understands he needs to please his customers. Spaghetti with meat sauce, meatballs and sausage, not entirely authentic Italian fare, are staples on the menu and in great demand. The meatballs and sausage are all made in house, and reputed to be the best in the area.
Although the name of the restaurant is Massimo Italian Bar & Grill, the “bar” part is seriously played down. The Terraccianos want the establishment to be family friendly so the bar is situated out in the open and serves more as a waiting area than a place to drink. Small meals can also be ordered from one of the six bar stools or two high tables.
During the summer months, the patio overlooking the bay is one of the most popular dining spots in the area. Reservations are strongly suggested on weekend evenings for dining at sunset.