CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Joe Graziano knows a thing or two about authentic Sicilian cuisine. He was born in Sicily, Italy, and he proudly displays a map of the region in his restaurant, Graziano's Pizza, a downtown Charleston landmark for nearly 40 years.
Sicilian cooking has a lot in common with Italian cuisine, but it also has Spanish, Greek, French, Arab and even Norman influences -- dating back to the Middle Ages -- because over the last 2,000 years, those cultures established themselves on the island.
Today, Sicilian cooking encourages the use of fresh fruits and vegetables with eggplants, peppers, olives and tomatoes playing major roles. Spices, particularly saffron and cinnamon, are part of the unique flavor of the region.
"You won't find anything like it anywhere else in town," Graziano said.
In June, the restaurant will celebrate 39 years in downtown Charleston. Since then, it's become a bit like a second home for Joe Graziano, who opened the doors in 1975 and practically lives there now, to the delight of regular customers.
"Consistency of good food is the main thing -- that, and our New York-style pizza. People from New York tell me that they take a bite and they can close their eyes, and they are transported back home," he said.
Customers who've been coming to Graziano's for the last 39 years can expect the same familiar flavors every time they order because the cooks have been using the same recipes and techniques since opening day.
Graziano came to Charleston in 1975, following his two brothers, Frank and Vito, who arrived in the U.S. and opened Graziano's Pizza in Dunbar the year before. Frank now operates the Teays Valley Graziano's, while their brother Vito has retired to Daytona Beach, Fla.
Even today, as the younger generation has grown up, "It's all a family affair. My nephew, my daughter, my son-in-law and grandson all work with me," Graziano said.
Nephew Philip Graziano frequently helps his Uncle Joe at the Charleston restaurant. Joe's daughter, Jennifer, her husband Jamie Bradshaw and grandson Noah Jones also work at the downtown shop.
But at least one family member has gone in his own, distinctly unique direction.
Joe's son, Giuseppe Graziano, has a new comedy television show, "Growing Up Fisher," sneak-peaking Feb. 23 on NBC at 10:30 after the Olympics. It will premiere at 9:30 p.m. Feb. 25.
His writing career is a source of pride for the family. Anyone who has visited Graziano's will note the large posters of "The King of Queens" and "The Big Bang Theory."
Giuseppe Graziano was a writer on both hit shows and is the lead writer on the new show. He is a graduate of Charleston Catholic High School and Emerson College in Boston.
The Los Angeles-based writer has frequently hosted his family in Hollywood and introduced them to the casts of the shows, said his father.
Not surprisingly, "Growing Up Fisher" is about a family -- something, no doubt, from which the writer has drawn real-life material. It is directed by David Schwimmer, known for his starring role on "Friends."
Three generations of the family are employed at Graziano's Pizza, and three generations of the city have come to rely on the place for a quick lunch or a dinner with friends, with a flavor of Sicily.
The décor is traditional Italian pizza parlor with roomy booth seating and stone walls.
The restaurant advertises that "Graziano's makes the best pizza," and that may be what draws in scores of Charleston Catholic students and businesspeople for their midday meal.
The New York-style pizza the restaurant is known for is hand-tossed, large, wide, thin crusted, foldable yet crispy, with a tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Graziano's also features many Sicilian specialties, including eggplant parmesan, antipasto salad and a Sicilian salad of green beans, onions, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes marinated in olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Another unique flavor patrons will find at Graziano's is cinnamon, often used to flavor Sicilian desserts.
The cannoli Graziano's serves is a tubular fried dough shell filled with sheep's milk ricotta cheese, lemon, orange and sweetened with the Arabic import, sugar.
Their tiramisu -- an espresso-soaked dessert of ladyfingers layered with mascarpone and cream and dusted with bittersweet chocolate -- also has a hint of cinnamon.
In accordance with his firm stance on using only the freshest ingredients, Graziano said he is using only bottled water to prepare food and to serve customers, and will continue to do so until their confidence and their customers' confidence is restored in the Charleston tap water.
With the 39-year anniversary around the corner, a visit to Graziano's Pizza has become a Charleston tradition. The flavors and foods of Sicily are available at the 243 Capitol St. eatery 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.