Leap ahead two decades, and smart Italian cooking is so much an everyday part of the United States that, according to Alan Watts, editor of the recently launched all-Italian-food-all-the-time website EatItalian.com.
"There are 26 million Italian-Americans in this country, and 100 million Americans who want to be," says Watts.
Indeed, Mariani says some are even asking what few thought they would ever hear: Is there too much Italian food? "There was this line in The New Yorker about whether or not you can get a restaurant license in New York anymore without a pizza oven," he said.
"But I also don't see another ethnicity replacing it anytime soon."
But until then, the next time you're in Lawrence, stop at Paisano's Ristorante. Steve and Debbie Butland are the owners.
"I was looking for a business to purchase," he says. "We looked at flower shops, print shops. The last thing I wanted to get into was the restaurant business. But we fell in love with Paisano's."
It's blue-chip dining.
Three reasons Alan Watts founded the new website about Italian food:
1 "There seems to be an inherent love of all things Italian, and 'Jersey Shore' and 'The Sopranos,' I think, have kind of mucked up that love. I don't think a great majority of Americans understand Italians."
2 "We wanted to build a community … a one-stop shop for people who like Italian food."
3 "Has Italian food reached a saturation point? I think the potential exists, yes. But the strongest will survive. I don't want to be part of the saturation. I want to be part of something sustainable, a social media site for people who don't think you buy a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce and you're now cooking Italian food."