Edward Aprile began working in his father’s North End restaurant, The European, when he was 14 years old. During the 25 years that followed, he bused tables, washed dishes, cooked, and did a stint as a floor manager.
Rather than taking over the business when his father decided to sell, Aprile opened his own restaurant — named Gaetano’s, after his father — within walking distance of his home in Stoneham in 1995. However, he never let go of his dream of opening a restaurant that paid tribute to The European in name as well as spirit.
He knew he was in the right place, he recalled, the instant he laid eyes on the soaring ceilings, paddle fans, exposed brick, and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows of the millhouse that formerly housed Bainbridge’s Restaurant in North Chelmsford.
After six months of construction, which included relocating the bar from the center of the dining room to the end near the kitchen, Aprile’s European Restaurant opened on May 28.
Browsing through the menu on a recent Friday evening, our four-person party was impressed by the array of chicken, veal, pasta, fish, red meat, pizza, and sandwich options. It was the appetizers, however, that set the tone for what would be a pleasurable meal.
The broccoli rabe ($10) was cooked al dente and sautéed with oil, diced tomatoes, and garlic, which didn’t overpower the natural bitterness of the leafy vegetable. The shrimp Grand Marnier ($13) consisted of six large, egg-battered shrimp flambéed in Grand Marnier sauce with a touch of sweetness in its blend of flavors.
The salmon European ($16) was pan-seared to perfection, so the fish was flaky while retaining its moistness. It was drizzled with a flavorful tomato and caper sauce and accompanied by thin, al dente asparagus.
The chicken piccata ($17) was two tender chicken breasts sautéed with mushrooms and capers in a light Chablis sauce. After a special request for more sauce with which to mix the angel-hair pasta, our friendly waitress assured the diner that it would be cooked to order as quickly as possible.
Our waitress also was happy to accommodate a substitution when the diner ordering steak tips ($15) wished for something other than the grilled zucchini that usually accompanies it. While some of the sirloin was a little tough, he raved about the sweet port wine sauce with caramelized onions and mushrooms. He also enjoyed his special side dish of perfectly cooked pasta and rich tomato sauce.
Even though this diner asked for the shrimp and artichoke ravioli ($16), one bite of the wild mushroom ravioli ($16) that arrived instead eliminated any potential disappointment. The eight oversized, homemade ravioli were stuffed with slices of porcini mushrooms that burst free in most every forkful. There was also more than enough creamy portobello mushroom sauce, which was so thick it clung to the fork.
For dessert, we ordered the deliciously creamy, homemade tiramisu ($9), which was served in a bowl so large that it required four-way sharing. The chocolate cake ($8) was the largest “slice’’ we had ever been served in a restaurant. Even without the delicate mousse layers, the cake was exceptionally moist.
According to Aprile, the restaurant’s best seller is the brogliamenti for two ($29), a combination of veal marsala, chicken and eggplant parmigiana, raviolis, meatballs, sausages, and sautéed spinach. His personal favorite, however, is the chicken parmigiana ($16), which he said is the same recipe used at The European for so many years.
“I hope we win over new customers the way we did at The European,’’ Aprile said. “What my father taught me is what I tell my staff. Do whatever it takes to make people happy.’’