North Fork restaurants share their family recipes

03/02/2015 3:50 PM |
(Credit: Paul Squire)

Stuffed artichokes from Touch of Venice in Cutchogue. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A lot of restaurants offer “family style” or “homemade” cooking. But what about real family recipes?

Out of the many North Fork restaurants, we’ve gathered up four excellent dishes you can sample that come straight from the home. Some were family traditions, others were secret recipes. All are available to eat.

Read more about the dishes and the histories behind them below.

(Credit: Paul Squire)

Spaghetti alla chitarra with duck sauce at Caci in Southold. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Duck Sauce

Where to get it: Caci in Southold.

How much: $24

The family story behind the dish: 

For executive chef Marco Pellegrini, the memories of his childhood in Umbria in Italy remain vivid. He remembers his mother grating out pasta on a special tool hours in advance to make the family’s signature dish: spaghetti with duck sauce. The pasta is given a special square shape thanks to the wooden tool used, named after a guitar because of the wires strung across it.

Since moving to America last year to helm Caci in Southold, Pellegrini says he makes the dish a bit lighter than his mother would make; he’s removed some of the fat, enhances the flavor of the duck meat, and uses more vegetables like celery, carrots and tomatoes.

But one thing has remained a constant at Caci: the dish must be authentic, down to the handmade pasta made from a semolina/flour mix and the Italian water he serves customers.

“If you want quality, it’s that,” he says. “The other [way] is only a copy.”

(Credit: Paul Squire)

Long Island clam chowder available at Cliff’s Rendezvous, Cliff’s Elbow Room and Cliff’s Elbow Room Too. (Credit: Paul Squire)

L.I. Clam Chowder

Where to get it: Cliff’s Rendezvous in Riverhead; Cliff’s Elbow Room in Jamesport; Cliff’s Elbow Room Too in Laurel.

How much: $4.50 for cup; $5.50 for bowl.

The family story behind the dish: 

For three generations, the Cliff Saunders clam chowder recipe has been passed down from its origins in Nassau — not Nassau County. Nassau in the Bahamas.

“It was probably a conch chowder back then,” said Cliff Saunders III, who runs a trio of restaurants in Riverhead, Jamesport and Laurel.

The recipe comes from Cliff Saunders I who later moved to the U.S.

At first, Saunders jokes, his grandfather didn’t want to share the recipe. But eventually Saunders’s mother earned the right to learn the secrets. That hardy and chunky Manhattan clam chowder (which he calls Long Island Clam Chowder) is now served fresh at his restaurants.

Don’t take his word that the dish is delicious, just look at its pedigree. In 2011, the family recipe took home top honors at the Greenport Maritime Festival’s chowder contest.

(Credit: Paul Squire)

Stuffed artichokes at Touch of Venice. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Stuffed Artichokes

Where to get it: Touch of Venice in Cutchogue

How much: $13

The family story behind the dish:

Artichokes are worshipped at Touch of Venice. Look in the dining room: a painting of an artichoke. Check the pot outside the restaurant: artichokes growing in the dirt.

But most importantly, awe at the plate. There you’ll find a heaping helping of Touch of Venice’s famous stuffed artichokes.

The artichokes were a holiday tradition in chef and owner Ettore Pennacchia’s family, a staple of Easter and Christmas. When Touch of Venice relocated to Cutchogue, the Pennacchia family decided to emphasize the festive offering.

It’s paid off; the artichokes are one of their most popular dishes.

In between the artichoke leaves, Pennacchia stuffs fresh herbs, breadcrumbs and pecorino roman cheese. But it’s not what’s in the artichoke that really matters, he said. It’s the artichoke you use.

The chefs at Touch of Venice get theirs from a special vendor to ensure the artichokes aren’t too tough or too flimsy.

“It needs to be just right,” Pennacchia said.

(Credit: Paul Squire)

Skordalia with red beets at Hellenic Snack Bar. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Skordalia with Red Beets

Where to get it: Hellenic Snack Bar in East Marion

How much: Half order: $7.95; Full order: $10.95

The family story behind the dish:

Greek cuisine — at least in restaurants — is all backwards, said George Giannaris, owner of the family-owned and operated Hellenic Snack Bar.

The gyros and souvlaki that are mainstays of Greek restaurants were actually saved for special occasions in the Giannaris household; they just took too long to make in a small kitchen.

It’s the “specials” on Hellenic’s menu that were the real mainstays he grew up with, and nothing is more emblematic of his family’s cuisine than skordalia.

“It was always there on the table,” Giannaris said, recalling his childhood.

Skordalia is a type of sauce, made in Mr. Giannaris’s family using garlic, olive oil and pureed bread mixed into a cream. It’s then served with warm, sweet — and local — red beets and pita bread.

The dairy-free sauce is also available with calamari or fried eggplant and zucchini.

The appetizer may not be as well known as Hellenic’s famous recipes for lemonade or gyros or tzatziki sauce, all of which Giannaris’s mother and father painstakingly crafted when they converted a burger bar into the Hellenic restaurant in the late 1970s.

But the dish is something else: a touch of the Giannaris family in an already family-run restaurant.

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