getting back to basics: part 2

To understand Dominic Cerino and his family’s restaurant, is to understand the history of the place and the foods of his grandma’s roots (more on that later). A history, I suspect, much richer and deeper than these few paragraphs.

Someone told me a long time ago that the restaurant was actually Carrie’s childhood home and that you could still see part of the original front porch. That’s true, sort of. You can have dinner outside the original front porch and it was a childhood home for someone, just not Carrie or anyone in her family.

A German family built the house sometime in the early 1900s and the Cerino family purchased it from the family in 1963. Many of the original items are still in tact, like the oversized fireplace. The German family would serve chicken dinners right from the front porch and used the basement as a speakeasy. During the tour, Dominic pointed out where the speakeasy once stood and the original tunnels that flow all throughout the house. Apparently, this was quite the house and family back in the day. Local legend says the FBI watched this house during WWII because they believed the Germans had a ham radio.

While in the basement, hearing about the tunnels and local legends – and just the fact that we were in the very old basement of a very old house – I had a feeling Dominic was going to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. So I quickly blurted out, “If you’re going to tell us this place has ghosts, I don’t want to hear it.” I’m terrified of anything scary. I successfully avoided watching Halloween or any of the Freddy movies growing up. I’m sure there are spirits and ghosts zooming around, I just tell myself they are all Casper-like. Well, either Dominic didn’t hear me, or didn’t take me seriously; because he went on to tell about his cousin that haunted the restaurant and caused minor problems.

“Goofy things,” he said, would happen. So he called Mary Ann, the North Royalton resident/ghostbuster who inspired the TV show “Ghost Whisperer”. Which made me chuckle and think of Dan Aykroyd and Ray Parker Jr. Apparently; Dominic had recently constructed a family tree going back several generations. He had inadvertently left out a cousin and she was upset she wasn’t remembered. That cousin, Virginia, was haunting the place. When Mary Ann told him this, he didn’t believe her. She said your cousin is here and is upset you don’t remember her. At first, Dominic didn’t. Then he remembered his Uncle Pete’s daughter from a previous marriage, Virginia, but everyone called her Ginger. She met with a very untimely and saddening demise back in the 1960s when Dominic was 8 and no one ever talked about it. At first, Dominic thought Mary Ann researched him – he was skeptical. But, she knew details about the entire incident that she could not possibly know – that he did’t even know. So he decided to call a family member who would know if this was accurate information and that person confirmed every detail. So in the end, Mary Ann helped Dominic remember his cousin, which was all Ginger wanted, and happily moved on. I’m happy to report there haven’t been any “goofy” things since.

Aside from ghosts, the 30,000-square foot restaurant has a nightclub, several banquet rooms (lots of weddings take place here), which feature crystal chandeliers from Milan his grandmother designed in 1972, and three dining rooms.

When we first got there, Dominic took us to the kitchen where he was preparing to cure bresaola for the first time. He shared he marinated the meat in the cheapest red wine (apparently an industry secret), bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, carrots, celery, onion, orange and lemon peels and salt/pepper. He then took us into a cooler with other cured meats, something he has taken a big interest in, but admits he is still learning. “I just threw away 20 pounds of pancetta, so I’m still learning,” he explained. “I’m still perfecting the skill and probably never will. I just wanted to learn it and will evolve with it.” (Dominic spent time with Armandino Batali, Mario’s dad and owner of Seattle’s popular Salumi, to craft his skill)

In the kitchen and cooler, I couldn’t help but notice how clean everything was – and just how much of everything there is. I mean gallons upon gallons of chicken and veal stock, marinara sauce, olive oil and every other ingredient indigenous to Italian food. There was even veal stock brewing in action – 80 quarts to be exact and what appeared to be an ore of some sorts for stirring.

I saw it all: dry goods area, bakery, live kitchen, prep kitchen, freezers, and tons of equipment. Things you can’t even get anymore, like the cast iron tilt skillet. “That’s one of the benefits of having an old kitchen,” said Dominic.

Yes, this place is big. Maybe too big. “We are so big and so much is going on,” said Dominic. “Some nights it doesn’t get managed properly.” This, I learned, is a huge frustration for Dominic. He absolutely can’t stand when someone does not have a good experience or someone is seated at a dirty table. He does not like things to fall through the cracks, but admits, the place is just too big for perfection every minute of the day.

“My dream is to be in a smaller place,” he said. “Five thousand-square feet, and 125 seats – that’s ideal. I would love to gut and give this place a new look, but I’m not sure this is the place we should do that – we would lose all of our grandfathering. This is a different market than it was 30 years ago. We’ve done it this way for 30 years, why change it. That’s what some people say anyway. But I want to get back to the way my grandmother did it, the way they do it in Norcia. I want people to experience what that feels and tastes like. I want to get back to basics.”

One Comment

  1. rockandroller
    Posted September 28, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    oooh, this is really interesting and good stuff. Thanks!