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With Skinny Joey's arrest, Merlino's restaurant takes a hit

After "Skinny Joey" Merlino's latest arrest, is it lights out for Merlino's restaurant in Boca Raton?

The words from Joey Merlino on his namesake Boca Raton restaurant's website seem prophetic: "Merlino's promises to provide you with a front row seat into an old Italian world."

The reputed mob boss, who moved from Philly to South Florida earlier this decade after a lengthy prison stint, was arrested again this week, part of a broader FBI sweep that rounded up a handful of Merlino's associates in South Florida and dozens of alleged mobsters around the country.

The latest legal trouble for the man known as "Skinny Joey" leaves an uncertain future for the restaurant. It closed in May, allegedly just for the summer. "Merlino's ... will be re-opening for sure in October," reads a post on the restaurant's Facebook page from Aug. 2, two days before Merlino's arrest. Palm Beach County-based gossip columnist Jose Lambiet reported in the Miami Herald in June that the restaurant was "closed for good" and on the market for $399,000.

I never ate at Merlino's, which opened in 2014, but my predecessor John Tanasychuk did, awarding it three stars and writing, "Nothing like a little Mafia cachet ... With some fine tuning, Merlino's could be Boca's next big Italian restaurant."

Management tried to downplay Merlino's involvement with the restaurant at the time, saying he wasn't an owner and just worked the front of the house. But Merlino is all over the restaurant's website, with photos and a note paying tribute to the matriarchal cooks in his family who inspired him, including his mother, Rita, grandmother Mary and great-grandmother Rafaela.

"Thank you again for joining my family," Merlino writes.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Instagram: @mikemayoeats

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