Taste of the Highland Lakes: Italian twists on Texas favorites

John Russo of Russo's Restaurant in Marble Falls

John A. Russo II has been perfecting his unique Tex-Italian twist on cuisine for 48 years, fusing local foods and adhering to the Italian cooking ethos: Don’t get in the way of good, fresh ingredients. Staff photos by Alex Copeland

OWNER: John A. Russo II

SIGNATURE DISH: Tenderloin filet

Before fusion cuisine became a trend in the restaurant industry, John Russo II of Russo’s Restaurant in Marble Falls was combining the foods and flavors of his Lithuanian-Italian heritage with the regional tastes of wherever he was living. That started on the East Coast, where he grew up in New Jersey.  

“I come from a huge family that liked to eat, and where we came from, everything you wanted to eat was available,” he said. 

He learned about great seafood and vegetables living in the Garden State along the Eastern seaboard. His family instilled in him the culinary rules he now lives by.

“The Italian theory is don’t screw it up,” Russo said. “Think of all the good stuff God gave you.” 

Russo began his restaurant career 48 years ago when he realized that, outside of his family, good food was a rarity. He decided he would rather do his own cooking, so he opened his first restaurant, Russo’s Cafe Exceptional, in Yankton, South Dakota, on July 3, 1972. 

He moved to the Texas Hill Country in 1987 and started another restaurant. He sold that one after a few years and started immediately on his next project, Russo’s Restaurant, which seamlessly combines Texas and Italian cuisines. Originally just off of U.S. 281 in Marble Falls, business was good enough for Russo to move his establishment to a new location in Gateway Park that added stunning Hill Country and lake views to the Russo’s experience. 

Tenderloin filet at Russo's Restaurant in Marble Falls
Beef with the Blues is a 6-ounce tenderloin served on a bed of zucchini and spinach and topped with sautéed tomatoes, jalapeños, pine nuts, mushrooms, and blue cheese.

With his cuisine rooted in traditional flavors, Russo carries on the family legacy in his current business. His son, John A. Russo III, is now the head chef. His wife, Diane, runs the front end of the establishment. 

Pasta, veal, chicken, and ribs are just part of the Tex-Italian menu. Steaks are what people talk about. The most popular, the Original Texy Tender, is a 6-ounce tenderloin filet topped with Russo’s original Texy Red sauce. It is served with fettuccini in a garlic cream sauce — a colorful medley of Texas tastes and Italian flavors.

Russo’s goal is to provide the experience and quality food of a high-end restaurant but without the dress code. Casual dining with an elegant flair has built a steady customer base. 

“People can sometimes think this is a place you have to save for special occasions, but it isn’t that way,” he said. “You can come in and spend ten bucks or you can come in and spend a hundred bucks. It’s up to you.” 

FOR A VISIT

Russo’s Restaurant is located at 602 Steve Hawkins Parkway in Marble Falls. For a menu and hours, visit texitally.com or call 830-693-7091.

Highland Lakes Eat & Drink Guide

Find more great places to eat and drink in the Highland Lakes at 101HighlandLakes.com.

alex@thepicayune.com

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