Lu­crezia Cafe own­ers cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­day din­ing an­niver­saries

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From The Farm

Restau­ra­teurs Mike and Nada Karas ad­mit they are su­per­sti­tious, a trait we also share at our farm with fam­ily tra­di­tions.

The Karas fam­ily opened Lu­crezia Cafe and Ris­torante Ital­ian in Ch­ester­ton in No­vem­ber 1998 as their ca­reer dream. The cou­ple se­lected for the din­ing lo­ca­tion what they de­scribe as a “quaint cot­tage” on a wooded land­scape at one of the pri­mary in­ter­sec­tions in down­town Ch­ester­ton.

The space pre­vi­ously housed Aun­tie Em’s An­tiques Store, which was a nod to the com­mu­nity’s pop­u­lar an­nual Wiz­ard of Oz Fes­ti­val. The an­tique shop al­ways was the host of the fes­ti­val’s an­nual Aun­tie Em’s Pie Bak­ing Con­test, and it was one of my yearly du­ties to write about the com­pe­ti­tion.

Nada Karas said she would of­ten shop at the an­tique store and came to know the owner, which is how she heard the build­ing was go­ing to be avail­able to buy.

“It was the per­fect place to trans­form into our own Ital­ian restau­rant,” she said.

“We wanted some­thing in­ti­mate and we’ve kept it that way for the past 20 years, with our seat­ing for 46 on the in­side and 48 peo­ple ca­pac­ity for out­door din­ing.”

The cou­ple waited un­til the month of No­vem­ber 2003 to open a se­cond Lu­crezia in Crown

Point, bas­ing the busi­ness in a ren­o­vated beau­ti­ful lofty his­toric house near down­town.

They chose the Lu­crezia name in homage to the his­tor­i­cal fig­ure Lu­crezia Bor­gia, an Ital­ian aris­to­crat and the daugh­ter of Pope Alexan­der VI and Van­nozza dei Cat­tanei. She is hailed as a pa­tron of the arts from a fam­ily of no­bil- ity and in­flu­ence.

This month marks a cel­e­bra­tion for the two restau­rants with 20 years and 15 years of Ital­ian hos­pi­tal­ity and de­li­cious din­ing. In 2005, the Ch­ester­ton lo­ca­tion was high­lighted in an episode of the PBS show “Check, Please!” in Sea­son 5. Som­me­lier and show host Al­pana Singh paid a visit to the restau­rant with pro­duc­ers and cam­era crews to de­liver what turned out to be col­lec­tive praise of the se­cret din­ers from Chicago.

Lu­crezia chef Al­fredo An­guiano has been with the Ch­ester­ton restau­rant since it opened, work­ing with Mike and Nada to cre­ate all of the menus, all writ­ten on an old-fash­ioned black­board dis­play, along with bev­er­age pair­ings from the bar.

In De­cem­ber 2016, a third Lu­crezia lo­ca­tion opened in Cul­ver near Lake Maxinkuc­kee, which is close to our own fam­ily farm. The cou­ple’s daugh­ter Jackie, who is an eques­trian, was a stu­dent at Cul­ver Mil­i­tary Academy, which prompted the idea for launch­ing a third lo­ca­tion.

“When we’d be at the school to visit our daugh­ter, we’d also spend time walk­ing around the down­town area in Cul­ver, which is how we no­ticed this closed restau­rant that was avail­able,” Mike said.

“Every time we came to Cul­ver, we found our­selves try­ing to look through the win­dows of this place and then imag­in­ing what we would do if we ever bought out and re-opened it with our own ideas. Fi­nally, one day we de­cided we should just do it in­stead of talk­ing about it. We tried to have it open in No­vem­ber of 2016 but it ended up be­ing De­cem­ber.”

One of the sig­na­ture recipes at all three of the Lu­crezia lo­ca­tions is stuffed egg­plant, rolled with prosci­utto and moz­zarella and baked in a rich tomato-cream sauce. The cou­ple shared the ba­sic recipe with me, with the ex­cep­tion of the sauce, which is a se­cret. They sug­gest a store brand tomato cream sauce can be used.

Bet­ter yet, Nada said at each of their restau­rants, they cus­tom­ize their house red mari­nara sauce, which is avail­able for pur­chase on the cater­ing menu. To cre­ate the cream sauce, just add 4 ounces of heavy cream to 2 cups of the Lu­crezia mari­nara sauce, as well as a gen­er­ous amount of fresh basil leaves, and process in an elec­tric blender.

Philip Potempa has pub­lished three cook­books and is the di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing at Theatre at the Cen­ter. 1 3

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LU­CREZIA CAFE

Stuffed egg­plant with tomato cream sauce is one of the fa­vorite sig­na­ture menu items at the Lu­crezia Cafe restau­rants.Makes 9 stuffed egg­plant rollscup all-pur­pose flour large eggs, lightly beatenPure olive oil, as needed for fry­ing large egg­plant, peeled and sliced thin length­wise, 1/8-inch thick­nessSalt and pep­per ounces thinly sliced prosci­utto pound fresh moz­zarella Pre­pared tomato cream sauce, as neededHeat oven to 350 de­grees. Place flour in one bowl and beaten eggs in a se­cond bowl. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skil­let.Dredge pre­pared egg­plant slices in flour first, then dip into beaten egg.Fry slices of coated egg­plant over mod­er­ate heat un­til lightly browned, about 2 min­utes per side and trans­fer to a bak­ing sheet to cool. Add more olive oil if needed to fry re­main­ing egg­plant slices.Lightly sea­son egg­plant with salt and pep­per.Cover the egg­plant slices with enough prosci­utto to cover cooled egg­plant slices and then add a slice of the moz­zarella cheese.Care­fully roll up the lay­ered egg­plant slices and se­cure with a tooth­pick.Cover bot­tom of a rec­tan­gu­lar bak­ing pan with pre­pared tomato cream sauce and ar­range the egg­plant rolls. Pour ad­di­tional tomato cream sauce over the egg­plant and cover with foil. Bake for 15 min­utes or un­til cheese in­side has melted.

Philip Potempa

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