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Family Recipes at Local Restaurants

December 18, 2019
  • Family Recipes at Local Restaurants
  • Avila's El Ranchito
  • Family Recipes at Local Restaurants
  • Family Recipes at Local Restaurants

Food is an important part of holiday traditions—and for good reason. Taste has the ability to evoke strong memories of not just the food itself, but also of a certain place and time. This is particularly true for these restaurateurs and chefs whose restaurants, over time, have become staples in the community. There, you’ll find special, soul-warming meals plucked from dog-eared family recipe books. Some are left untouched and unchanged. Others are newfangled versions of tried-and-true classics. As we dive head-first into the holiday season, we’re taking a look at—and stealing a bite from—these generations-old dishes and the stories of how they came to be.

Sheri Drewry | Wilma’s Patio
Pumpkin Pancakes

“My mom was Wilma. My mom and dad started this restaurant. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t believe in a lot of babysitting, so they sacrificed. My mom worked nights, and my dad worked days, so we could always be with either parent. That meant that my father basically had dinner duty. My father’s absolutely favorite meal of the day was breakfast, so we ate a whole lot of pancakes, which was his favorite thing! He ate pancakes every single solitary day, which drove my mom crazy. So 20 years ago—or maybe even longer than that—I was seeking out recipes for pumpkin pancakes, and I found something that was very unique. Together with my head chef, after my dad passed away in 1995, we tweaked that recipe and came up with the most incredible pumpkin pancakes. We ended up serving those long before the pumpkin craze began. Starting late August, people start calling and asking: are they on yet? They now almost have their own cult following here at Wilma’s. That was my ode to my father.”

Maribel Avila Ley | Avila’s El Ranchito
Mamá Avila’s Soup

“Our soup is probably what we’re most known for. We make the soup fresh daily. It’s homemade chicken broth, with chunks of chicken. It has our homemade rice, cilantro, avocado, and we put lime and tomato in it. It has been on our menu since we opened in 1966. My grandma opened the restaurant with her husband, and it was all her recipes—and it still is to this day. The soup is something that she made at home all the time, and everyone loved having it. Mondays were always soup day. We would always meet at 3 o’clock. The whole house would smell so good. I remember it so vividly. There were other food too, but the soup was the main deal. Anyone was welcome. She’d say, “bring whoever, I have plenty of soup. Just come grab a bowl.” This is the whole reason Mondays are a big deal. Monday is our soup special. I love working Mondays, seeing all the families come in. It kind of reminds me of the same feeling of being at my grandma’s house. Our family now, with 13 locations, we really want our food to taste like it was made with love— the same way my grandma’s did.”

Head Chef Daniel Johns | Sabatino’s Sausage Company
Homemade Italian Sausage

“The sausage is a family recipe. It started back by the Sabatino family in Sicily in 1864. Peter Sabatino is from Chicago. His father owned the original Sabatino’s in Chicago. He used to sell the sausage on the side in the beginning, and eventually opened up a deli and a restaurant. The recipe’s always been the same. It’s never been changed. We get the pork straight from the farmer, so it’s as fresh as can be. The pork’s trimmed, and then it’s ground and mixed in a hand-cranked press, like in the old days. It’s not pressed out of a machine—that’s why it’s so good, because it’s put in a natural casing. We use fresh herbs and spices in there, and we put in goat milk cheese from Sicily. It’s just, you know, wonderful and heartwarming. If you eat it, you just love it. It’s so good that we ship it all over the United States, even to New York and Hawaii. People just love it. I always say that, we’re a hidden location, but once you find it, we’ve gotcha.”

Cathy Garland | Provenance
Lasagna Bolognese

“I have a great aunt in Verona, up in the northern part of Italy. Every year, at Christmas time, when I would go back there, we would make lasagna because that’s traditional from the north. My job was to turn the crank on the pasta machine. Everybody in the family had a role to play. Somebody’s making the ragu, somebody’s making the pasta, somebody’s cooking it the water. When you’re cooking for 50, it’s like an assembly line. I think that a big part of it was the team effort—the women coming together and producing this complicated dish. We put a blanket of noodles down in the pan, then on top of that, we put this luscious meat sauce—a tomato ragu, which we call our mother sauce—and then we make a bechamel. In the south of Italy, you’ll see them use ricotta cheese. The bechamel comes from the north. The really cool thing about the bechamel is that when you bake that lasagna, it causes it to soufflé. It creates a lot of air inside the lasagna so it’s so light, and so airy. For me, to have been able to duplicate that taste and texture [at Provenance], it just transports me right back to Northern Italy, to cranking that pasta machine. There’s something about the smell, too. When you walk into a kitchen and it’s the same smell, you’re just instantly transported to a different place.”

Written by Mariam Makatsaria

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