Tony\'s stands as Saginaw\'s synonym for hospitality and great food

Posted In: Culture, Restaurants, Community Profiles,   From Issue 702   By: Lori Robinson

15th April, 2010     0

A unique type of beauty quietly thrives at a Tony's Restaurant.

It's not high gloss, body sculpted, meticulously coiffed, not necessarily closet-tanned nor necessarily waxed. While patrons displaying those characteristics are doubtless among the welcomed guests to any Tony's Restaurant, the full beauty of a Tony's is better rounded than that.

It's the type of beauty exhibited by decades of enduring independence despite prevailing currents in socioeconomic climates - the type that holds fast to family, to community, to tradition and to commitment.

Our small family unit's favorite location of this Saginaw-based chain, independently owned by members of the Lagalo Family, sits in the city of Saginaw on Gratiot at Braley.

Brothers Brian and Dominic own this particular store. Both are easy to come into conversation with patrons when it comes to speculation about new developments such as the return of print editions of the local paper on Tuesdays or the contents of a recent Review Magazine. But start-talking publicity with either one and the order of the day (How did you want your eggs cooked?) quickly takes precedent.

Brian and Dominic staff the grill in one another's stead. Let an order hit the carousel and your conversation about getting the place more press had better reach its point within seconds, because customers are waiting for their food and if Brian is on the clock, he's going to cook it and if Dominic is on, he will.

Therein lies a significant portion of the beauty of a Tony's. Want to meet the owner and the executive chef in one fell swoop? Look no further than the man at the grill. Again this is not the place that one might expect to typify haute cuisine. But what started in 1946 as Butch Lagalo's Giant Steak Sandwich has changed very little in 74 years and regardless of whether the diners are local or visitors, chances are really great that if they're carnivores, they're going to love it.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dominic if there was anything he'd like to share with readers about the restaurant. He graciously offered to bring in his collection of saved newspaper clippings gathered from throughout the years, roughly detailing the history of the restaurant and his family's genealogy, if I wanted to stop in the next day. Or if I wanted more general information, I could take a look at a wall hanging of an award from the 1980s recognizing the chain for its outstanding Giant Steak Sandwich that Butch first created in '46, because, Dominic advises, very little has changed since then. Like-minded in my desire for expediency, I chose the wall hanging and my handy take-out menu.

"What does it say up there," Dominic offers, ever deferential and hospitable yet intelligent and business-like in his demeanor. "Fifteen restaurants in a 30-mile radius? Yeah. There's more now."

Tony's Restaurants are famous in the Saginaw Valley for their three-meal availability of casual family style Italian fare. I've never been told it's too late for breakfast at any Tony's Restaurant and we're always eating breakfast well after noon.

An order of Italian sausage with breakfast earned thumbs up all the way around the table during a recent sitting. We always order Italian bread with our sandwiches and breakfasts. Try it once and you won't need my explanation why. My 11-year-old son and I recently began a tradition of counting on Tony's for a dual order of its Cheeseburger Deluxe with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. The combo includes a big pile of fries. We almost always cap off this treat with a big glass of Pepsi. If we sit in Miss Debbie's section, she'll prepare our refill in to-go cups.

If you're in for breakfast or lunch, it's really difficult to spend $10 per person on a meal at Tony's. One would need quite an appetite to accomplish such a feat. And you'd have to try possibly with all your might to spend $20 per person on dinner there.

All the food is made to order upon the order. The burgers are made from scratch.  And not every item is built around red meat, but again, it does help to be a carnivore in order to enjoy a visit to a Tony's Restaurant. The menu includes soup (a great accompaniment for that garlic bread), poultry, fish and salads. Most patrons would consider it an anomaly to not try the Giant Steak Sandwich, that Tony's Restaurant hallmark ever since the beginning.

The dinner menu includes four standard spaghetti dishes -- with meatballs, meat sauce, mushrooms or Italian sausage. There's also roast beef, shrimp and chicken. Fountain items include banana splits, malts, sundaes and pie a la mode. The decor at our favorite Tony's is dated but the place is clean.

It feels a lot like home.


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