Lucrezia Cafe owners celebrating holiday dining anniversaries
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
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.