WORCESTER – In an Italian household, where there’s food, there’s family. At Pepe’s Italian Restaurant in Worcester, that has never been more true. Teresa Travaglio and her family are the folks behind Pepe’s, a casual spot where you will feel at home the second you step foot through the door.

“People walking in the first time, they walk in and they just see how family oriented we are, so it’s a lot of fun,” Teresa said.

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Not only is she operating the restaurant with her brother John, but also, she happens to runs the hair salon right next door.

“I have a restaurant and a salon in the building, so all my customers from the salon, they always come over with foils or perm wraps. They’ll come next door, get a glass of wine, have some lunch, have some dinner. It’s like a huge family.”

While Teresa buzzes between the businesses, you will always find her mom back in the kitchen cooking her time tested recipes.

“Tomasina is the smallest little Italian lady. She’s 4’11” and she just loves to come in here and boss everybody around and cook. Her food is awesome,” Teresa assured. “There’s a lot of emotion to it. Like you’re really happy when you see people enjoying their food, and they’re happy. It’s like, That came from us. We made that, and we’re making you happy.”

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Meatballs at Pepe’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

No one makes meatballs quite like mama.

“My mom does make the best meatballs. I try to make meatballs, but they don’t come anywhere near hers,” Teresa admitted.

The sensational spheres can be found alongside sausage over pasta, or as part of a dish you may have never come across: the deliciously illusive Pizza Pot Pie.

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Pizza Pot Pie at Pepe’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“I’ve been a lot of different places, and I still have yet to see a pizza pot pie. I’ve seen a chicken pot pie, but not a pizza pot pie,” Teresa said. “The Pizza Pot Pie is made in a terracotta pot, filled with meatballs, sausage, all sorts of cheeses, and then they put more dough on top, more cheese. When you crack into it, sauce and meatballs and sausage and cheese just ooze right out of it, and you see the biggest smile on their faces.”

If you prefer your pizza the traditional way, Pepe’s tosses and sauces pies that range from understated to over the top. There is the Firecracker, which has all the flavor and fire of a buffalo wing, or the Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, for indecisive customers who can’t pick between pasta and pizza. However, if you ask Teresa, the Potato Pizza is the way to go.

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Potato Pizza at Pepe’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“Potato pizza is sliced potatoes, bacon, cheddar and ranch. You feel like you’re eating a potato skin on a pizza crust. You taste the potatoes. You taste the bacon. Everything just blends together, but there’s so many different tastes to it.”

Of course, Pepe’s has a menu packed with Italian appetizers like Mozzarella Sticks with tangy marinara; thick cut Bruschetta and addictive Italian style wings. Steamed Mussels come swimming in a garlicky broth and the Antipasto is always overloaded. If you really want to kick off your meal right, order the ultra-popular Tomasina’s Pasta Fagioli.

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Pasta Fagioli at Pepe’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“Everybody comes here for Pasta Fagioli. It’s my mom’s recipe,” Teresa explained. “It’s a vegetarian Pasta Fagioli. There’s no meat in it, but so much protein with all the beans that she uses. It’s a great, hearty meal.”

Speaking of hearty, check out Pepe’s meat lasagna.

“The lasagna here is amazing,” Teresa assured. “It’s ricotta, it’s mozzarella, it’s our special sauce, and people love it. It’s a huge piece and you can’t eat the whole thing.”

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Meat Lasagna at Pepe’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

You really should try to control your appetite, because at Pepe’s desserts are a must order, with options like fluffy Tiramisu and hot Apple Turnovers. Nothing beats a trip to the Gelato case for a scoop.

Whether you are part of her restaurant family, her hair salon family, or her actual family, you will always have a seat at Teresa’s table when you visit Pepe’s.

You can find Pepe’s at 274 Franklin Street in Worcester, and online at pepesbrickovenpizza.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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