A Slice of Italy at Venetian Hot Plate in Port Aransas
Just a fraction of a mile from the beach in Port Aransas, Texas, sitting diagonally on the corner of Beach and Station St., is a small orange building with a red roof. And inside of that building? Some of the best Italian food found anywhere in the Coastal Bend…and beyond.
Venetian Hot Plate has been owned by Linda Halioua for more than 25 years, ever since she moved to the island with her late husband Maurice in 1995. Linda was born in the Venice area of Italy, where she grew up working in restaurants—something that continued when she moved with Maurice, who was a chef, to Philadelphia.
When the couple decided they wanted to open a restaurant of their own, Linda was keen on the idea of it being in a place where she could wear short sleeves all year long. The Haliouas’ original intent was to move to Florida, but they soon heard of a space for sale in Port Aransas, and well, as Linda puts it, “I’m a sucker for islands.”
The pair packed up and headed down to this corner of the coast, where they grew fond of the town’s funkiness and unique local culture. Linda jokes that at the time, “People’s idea of Italian food was Olive Garden.” That changed, though, thanks in large part to Venetian Hot Plate’s lasagna recipe, which was originally only offered on Saturdays and quickly grew in notoriety throughout the town.
When you’re making each layer of noodles and every scoop of bolognese sauce from scratch, making lasagna becomes quite the time-consuming feat. Linda recalls the years it took to perfect the recipe that would come to be served at Venetian Hot Plate. She laughs, explaining how Maurice would make the lasagna with four layers while Linda’s mother would insist on only three. Regardless of the process, the lasagna became so popular that people began to call ahead and reserve their slice of lasagna so that all Linda’s inventory would be spoken for by Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week.
Linda remembers one evening when a table called ahead for three orders of lasagna but ended up needing only two. The diners stood up in the restaurant and began to try to auction off the extra slice to the rest of the restaurant, who quickly tried to take them up on the offer. “It’s still my kitchen!” she told the would-be auctioneers.
Today, the famous lasagna is still made with the same recipe, prepared for customers by Maurice’s right hand man. It’s now served every day the restaurant is open, and in addition the restaurant makes trays of the dish that can be taken to-go and will serve 10 to 12 people at a time (be sure to call at least 48 hours ahead of time). The next time you head to Port Aransas, be sure to head to Venetian Hot Plate for a slice of your own and enjoy the tastes of Venice on Texas’ favorite island!
Lasagna image taken by Nikki Ikonomopoulos.