If Jack Odicho’s food tastes familiar, it should.
The chef and restaurateur has been feeding Modesto for more than 35 years. He started back in 1980 with food trucks, moved to delis and then by the mid-’80s opened Papachino’s in downtown Modesto; Papachino’s is still running today though he sold it to new owners more than a decade ago. Now Odicho is back with another new restaurant, the Rusty Red Grill in Village One, serving up a familiar mix of Greek and Italian food.
The spot at the corner of Claus Road and Sylvan Avenue offers an eclectic Greco-Roman menu. You can order a gyro pita or lamb burger next to linguini alfredo or chicken marsala. The new restaurant is in the space of the short-lived Taste of Mediterranean and two doors down from The Tap Room. The cozy space seats about 40, with booths and tables as well as a small seating area outside. The old occupant’s sign is still above the door outside, but Odicho promises to have his own made soon to alleviate any lingering confusion.
Besides menu staples like chicken shawarma (served over jasmine rice with a Greek salad, hummus and pita on the side) and aveggie panini (a mix of sauteed eggplant, portabello mushrooms, roasted red pepper and sliced onions), Odicho prepares daily hot entree specials. Those can range from meatballs and mussels to lamb shanks and moussaka (a lasagna-like Greek dish made with eggplant and ground beef). He makes his focaccia fresh each day, as well as the hummus, baklava and various sauces.
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“It’s embarrassing for a restaurant to buy anything already cooked,” he said. “I put my heart into this food like I’m cooking it for my kids — but I just make it look better for you.”
In fact, Odicho’s four children, age 17 to 22, work at the new place and were the ones who encouraged him go back into restaurants. After selling downtown Papachino’s to one of his longtime cooks in 2006, the family moved east to Michigan and New Orleans. When they returned to the area his kids told him he still made as good or better food than what they were getting when they ate out.
So back into the Modesto food scene he dove. The Lebanon-native’s roots in restaurants run deep. After moving to Modesto to sell life insurance in 1980, he realized he could make more each night by taking a food wagon out to the area canneries. That became his own fleet of food trucks, which became his first brick-and-mortar place on Coffee Road across from Downey High, Jax All-American Sub & Deli, in 1981. He followed that up with Chi Rho’s Pub a few years later and then around 1985 opened Papachino’s, named after his father Chino.
He had first planned to open a steak restaurant, but when the Village One spot became available he took over the lease but said he wasn’t allowed to stray from its Mediterranean fare. He had picked the “Rusty Red” name because it sounded good for a steakhouse, but stuck with it all the same for his current menu. Still there’s nothing rusty about his offerings.
Sandwiches are presented in baskets lined with faux newspaper, a nice touch if this reporter says so herself, and the entree plates are both beautiful and generous. Down the road he plans to start offering beer and wine. And everything is served up with lots of heart.
“I have fed Modesto over and over all these years,” he said. “We’ve fed a whole generation. It’s a good feeling to feed people.”
Find the Rusty Red Grill at 3948 Sylvan Ave. It is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed Sundays. For more information call 209-596-4113.