Beneath the simplicity of Parma’s approach is a deep celebration of Italian culture and cuisine
It’s just off Summerlin Parkway, wedged into a crowded little Trader Joe’s strip mall. Here sits the epitome of the neighborhood restaurant. It’s called Parma. It’s small. Italian food. And it’s routinely packed with satisfied, comfortable people who live around here and come once a week. It might be just like every Italian joint in every suburban community in any town.
Or there might be more to it. There might be multiple layers of strategy conceived by a veteran self-taught chef and restaurateur. The room, though small, might offer varied experiences through the days, nights and weeks: sausage and peppers or cold cut sandwiches at lunch; a wine-and-dine lounge in the middle of the room; Neapolitan-style pizza from an almond wood-burning oven on Wednesday nights. The food, though familiar, could be the result of a lifetime spent cooking, traveling and experimenting. Some of these dishes might be masquerading as “tonight’s specials” when they’re actually a gateway to something unique and exotic, a window into a chef’s creativity. Sure, there’s baked lasagna, but there also has been ahi tuna Bolognese and halibut with a saffron and mascarpone cream sauce. Tuscan ravioli filled with artichoke and potato. Tender charred octopus salad, and rich sea urchin linguini. This place might be very special.
Or it could be just dinner with some friends: wine, meatballs, linguine with clams. So which is it? Can a neighborhood Italian restaurant be all of the above?
Please please me
“You can’t be a chef and think you’re gonna please everybody, but you’re not here to please yourself, either. I’ve learned a lot from trying to be that guy. I’ve learned that you can’t do that. What’s important is what people want and what’s going to bring them back.”
The man behind these wise words and behind Parma is Marcus Sgrizzi. Like his restaurant, this guy has layers. He’s known as Chef Marc, the guy bouncing back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, greeting customers with generous descriptions of the dishes he’s excited about tonight. He’s a friendly guy, a tough guy, an East Coast guy, and he can talk fast sometimes. But beyond this kinetic persona, he’s a warm guy, and he cares deeply about food, tradition and the dining experience.
“If you could be a fly on the wall next to the guy eating your food and just stare at them, that’d be your fantasy as a chef,” Sgrizzi says. “That’s your biggest reward, that beautiful feeling you get from making people happy with food. If you’re in it for something other than that, you’re in the wrong business. You can never take that for granted.”
His grateful attitude, coupled with a decade of Vegas experience, is what makes Parma a near-perfect neighborhood restaurant, full of new and old and above all else, warmth. In a city where the quintessential dining experience is molded by tourists, true locals’ destinations truly resonate. And no one eats at Parma once.
“People come here knowing the chef’s name is on the door, and that chef is going to fix something for them. They might not know what it is or they might be thinking of something they’ve gotta have, and I’m here to do both,” Sgrizzi says, comparing a frenzied night in the kitchen to his other great love — boxing. “When those tickets are coming, the fight is on. Who knows what’s gonna happen? You’ve gotta be ready for anything, at all times, and I love that. You can’t just throw anything on the plate, you have to come up with something great. You’ve gotta make them happy.”
Parma feels different from the other two restaurants Sgrizzi has opened in Vegas, Marc’s World Cuisine in 2001 and Mezzo in 2007. Before landing here, he worked at his father’s restaurants and branched out on his own in upstate New York and South Florida. He’s also traveled extensively and worked around Italy, and visited his wife’s native Thailand, too, picking up ideas everywhere.
April will mark three years of business at Parma, the sharpened tip of his 40 years of culinary experience.
“It’s much more casual. I love the atmosphere here, the simplicity of it, the freshness of the food,” he says. “Just the name of the restaurant, Parma, to me is about going to Italy and learning so much there, which has a lot to do with less is more. In Italy, it’s all about ingredients and quality, but they don’t brag about it. They don’t put it on the signs. It’s just natural. And I’m happy to keep it simple.”