Casa Cal­abria feels like home

Chef cooks up au­then­tic recipes from na­tive Italy

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Michael Mayo

Casa Cal­abria wel­comes guests with a sim­ple touch of South­ern Ital­ian soul. A loaf of bread, crusty on the out­side and yeasty on the inside, ar­rived soon af­ter we were seated on a re­cent week­end. No but­ter. A glass con­tainer of ex­travir­gin olive oil was on the ta­ble, ready for pour­ing. Our server set down two small bowls: a tape­nade paste with olives and sun-dried tomato, and a smooth toma­to­basil sauce.

The bread was from Gran Forno, a fine Ital­ian bak­ery in Fort Laud­erdale. The rest was straight from Casa Cal­abria owner Frank Ta­lerico’s heart.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing around the ta­ble with my fam­ily grow­ing up, and we all dipped bread in sauce,” Ta­lerico says in a fol­lowup in­ter­view af­ter my meal.

Thus, the same can be done at Casa Cal­abria, Ta­lerico’s trib­ute to his late par­ents and South­ern Ital­ian roots at the Ocean Manor Beach Re­sort on Galt Ocean Mile. Ta­lerico was born in Cal­abria, a re­gion at the front foot/toe part of Italy’s boot, in the small moun­tain town of San Gio­vanni in Fiore. His fa­ther raised goats and made fresh ri­cotta. His grand­mother, mother and aunt cooked big Sun­day sup­pers of stuffed pep­pers, gnoc­chi and pasta with rich, sim­mered meat sauce. His par­ents wanted the prover­bial bet­ter life in the United States, so the fam­ily moved to Michi­gan in 1973, when he was 6.

Many of the dishes Ta­lerico warmly re­mem­bers from his youth can be found on Casa Cal­abria’s menu. They are made with his fam­ily’s recipes from Cal­abrian in­gre­di­ents shipped in a few times a month. The restau­rant also fea­tures house­made pas­tas, an­tipasto meats cured at a small Cal­abrian salume­ria in the Bronx, oc­to­pus from Por­tu­gal and fresh branzino flown in from the Mediter­ranean. Nearly ev­ery­thing I had was good, pre­pared sim­ply and smartly by three Ital­ian-born chefs who helm the kitchen.

Even be­fore know­ing Ta­lerico’s fam­ily his­tory, I hap­pily dipped and dunked the bread in sauce to start my meal. The sauce was silky and mel­low, a warm wet kiss on the inside of the cheek. The toma­toes for the sauce come canned from Cal­abria. Ta­lerico also gets olive oil, porcini mush­rooms and dried pasta from his na­tive re­gion, where he still has rel­a­tives and makes reg­u­lar vis­its.

Lit­tle touches such as these The ri­cotta gnoc­chi, above, at Casa Cal­abria in Fort Laud­erdale, is made from a recipe handed down from owner Frank Ta­lerico’s aunt in the Cal­abria re­gion of Italy. The baked stuffed pep­pers Cal­abrese, left, are filled with ground beef, veal, rice, onions and gar­lic and topped with moz­zarella. The recipe was handed down by Ta­lerico’s late mother An­gelina. el­e­vate Casa Cal­abria be­yond the typ­i­cal red-sauce Ital­ian joint. It opened in Fe­bru­ary 2016 and has been steadily build­ing a fol­low­ing with a lively bar, live mu­sic and an ocean­front view. It is a ho­tel din­ing room that feels like a home, with photos of Ta­lerico’s par­ents and pictures of Cal­abrian vil­lages and land­scapes on the walls. The food and ser­vice are good, the prices veer to­ward the high side, and the at­mo­sphere bor­ders on Bill Mur­ray lounge-singer cheesy as drinks flow and songs get belted out around a red piano.

The front of the restau­rant has brick walls and col­umns near an open kitchen. The back has a wood-pan­eled ceil­ing and big ocean­front win­dows over­look­ing a pool deck. Some fur­nish­ings have the feel of a grand­mother’s house. I wouldn’t call the room el­e­gant, but it works. Things got a lit­tle hot and cramped on the night of my visit. One of the ho­tel’s air-con­di­tion­ing com­pres­sors was still out af­ter Irma, Ta­lerico ex­plains, but it has since been fixed.

In a way, Casa Cal­abria is a happy ac­ci­dent. Ta­lerico started in the food busi­ness, work­ing at a rel­a­tive’s restau­rant in Michi­gan in his teens and open­ing his own restau­rant at age 20. He came to South Florida in 1991 as the fran­chise owner of some Hun­gry Howie’s pizza restau­rants. He then branched into real es­tate, buy­ing and rent­ing out con­dos

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