Read an Excerpt
Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook
When you are at Carmine's, there are happy people around you and everyone is smiling.
-ALICE CUTLER, PRESIDENT AND PARTNER
The intoxicating aromas of garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes waft through the front door of Carmine's so that from the moment you enter, you find yourself salivating. As you are led to your table, waiters pass by carrying trays loaded with large platters of hot antipasti, crisp Caesar salad, garlic bread oozing butter, pasta with white clam sauce, steak Contadina, and eggplant Parmesan. Dizzy with anticipation for the meal ahead, you suddenly are distracted by the sight of a gigantic ice cream dessert--aptly named, you later discover, the Titanic--on its way to a happy group at a nearby table. Everywhere you look, customers look well fed, happy, and relaxed. This is going to be some meal!
Laughter fills the air, bubbling into the room and dancing off the walls as it mingles with cheerful conversation and the gloriously inviting scents emanating from the constantly swinging kitchen doors. The tables are spacious, the lighting muted, the wood paneling dark, and the warm-toned beige walls are filled with black-and-white photographs of Italian families and well-known Italian Americans. Everything is designed to evoke the past and the great culinary heritage Italian immigrants brought to our shores, but nothing is actually old or outmoded.
This is the Carmine's experience. It's this experience that you can bring home to your family when you prepare the recipes on the following pages. Our food is a synthesis of what Italians, many from Southern Italy, broughtwith them to New York when they passed through Ellis Island on their way to a better life. It is food rich with tomato sauces, fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, seafood, pasta, sausages, cheese, and lots of love.
OUR STYLE OF ITALIAN FOOD
Let's face it. When most Americans think about Italian food, it is dishes such as ours--stuffed mushrooms; pasta with broccoli, sausage, and tomatoes; shrimp scampi; and veal Marsala--that spark the taste buds. Everyone loves spicy meatballs and a good marinara sauce, and everyone loves bubbling hot lasagna--and it's been decades since these foods have been considered "foreign." On the contrary, they are all-American family favorites.
Perhaps this is no surprise. Italians began emigrating to the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century, with a concentration arrivingafter 1880. In the beginning, most were single men from Southern Italy, where overcrowding and poverty chased them from home, and most planned to return to Italy once they made some money. In fact, the Italians were dubbed "birds of passage" because they were considered migratory workers who traveled back and forth from one continent to the other. This also explains why so few went into farming, preferring the relatively high wages and numerous but transitory jobs in the cities--although they painstakingly cultivated small urban gardens. Because of the structure and importance of Italian family life, when wives and children finally emigrated, the women tended to stay home or to work in small family businesses rather than sign on as domestic or factory workers. This meant that they were around to cook simple, thrifty meals that reminded everyone in the household of home.
What were these meals? Pasta was easy to make with flour and eggs and cost very little. Tomatoes grew well during American summers and were ideal for canning. Cow's milk was plentiful and could be made into simple fresh cheeses such as mozzarella and ricotta. Pork was not too costly, and the fattier cuts could be cured into salami. Most Americans in those days didn't grow garlic, bell peppers, or zucchini, but that didn't stop the Italians from planting their gardens with these and other vegetables. Nor did they refrain from making wine and grappa in city basements.
When these Italian home cooks prepared meals, economy was always an issue. They braised inexpensive cuts of meat long and slow to tenderize them with tantalizingly delicious results. If they ran out of meat or cheese, resourceful cooks used bread crumbs to add texture to pasta. They stuffed garden-grown peppers with mixtures bolstered with bread cubes, garlic and herbs, and thrifty amounts of meat or chicken. They filled sheets of pasta with creative combinations of vegetables and cheese for ravioli.
From these humble beginnings great traditions were born in the kitchens of Lower Manhattan, Boston's North End, and South Philly. Sunday afternoonswere family days when everyone, from the oldest great-grandmother to the youngest baby, got together to eat and drink, tell stories of the old country, and admire the growing families flourishing in America. Women began cooking their red sauce long before church on Sunday morning, and as soon as they got home from Mass they made the pasta, which they cut into various shapes as they gossiped around the kitchen table. The men sliced off hunks of salami and hard cheese to sustain them until the late-afternoon meal was served, and the kids raced up and down the front stoops, calling to their cousins as they played street games.
This is the experience we strive to re-create at Carmine's. Every day is Sunday afternoon for us, and everyone is always welcome. The food is fresh, hot, and redolent of garlic, basil, and olive oil. We pile platters with fresh salads, steaming, just-cooked pasta bathed in heady red sauce, perfectly seasoned chicken and steak, and glorious vegetables. All of our dishes are served family-style, and all of our dishes are made to order. You might swear there's a little old Italian grandmother in the kitchen stirring pots and adding a pinch of this, a sprinkling of that to make your meal so perfect!
The dishes in this book are wonderful for everyday family meals or for large parties. We can't think of a better way to set a buffet table for a casual family get-together or a more formal dinner party than with platters of Cold Roasted Figs with Gorgonzola, Prosciutto Bits, Grapes, and Balsamic Glaze, our famous Chicken Wings Scarpariello-Style with Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce, perfectly cooked Porterhouse Steak Contadina, and Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder Chops with Vegetable Orzo Risotto, followed by Carmine's Tiramisu. Now that's a party!
So, with a smile on your face, a smear of tomato sauce on your apron, and Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook in your kitchen, you and your loved ones can sit down to a hearty, great-tasting meal of the beloved dishes from our restaurant. It's likely these will quickly become your signature dishes, too.
OUR BEGINNINGS AND OUR FUTURE
Long before he opened the first Carmine's in August of 1990 on New York's Upper West Side, Artie Cutler had been tossing around the idea for a family-style Italian restaurant. His interest was fueled when he attended a friend's wedding held in a suburban backyard where old-fashioned, hearty Italian food, served family-style, filled the guests' plates and helped turn the party into a splendidly boisterous celebration. Artie responded to the warmth and happiness of the occasion as well as its utter lack of pretension. Mostly, he recognized how happily the wedding guests responded to the "real food" and liberal portions. With this in mind, he sharpened his vision for a restaurant that would allow Manhattan's chic yuppies to unwind, a restaurant that would attract their parents and their children as well.
Two years after the first Carmine's opened its doors on Broadway and 91st Street, Artie opened another restaurant on 44th Street just west of Broadway."People told him he was nuts," his wife, Alice Cutler, remembers. Times Square had not yet gone through its transformation, and no one thought a restaurant right smack in its heart was a good idea--no one but Artie. He believed the area would very soon become desirable again, says Alice, who now is at the helm of the business. He was right, of course. The 44th Street Carmine's is our busiest and best-known location, and a great favorite with tourists from the United States and all over the world.
Clearly, Artie believed in teamwork, and Alice and her partners carry on that tradition today. "As a company, we are like a big family," she says. "A lot of employees have been here for a long time and the restaurant becomes a home away from home. We still have waiters who started with us when we opened the first Carmine's in 1990." One of the happiest examples of Carmine's dedication to upward mobility is Luis Javier, the talented executive chef at 44th Street, who started eighteen years ago as a salad chef. "To see Luis grow from within the company has been a pleasure," says Alice.
A tight-knit group of like-minded people, most of whom worked with Artie, work at the New York-based Alicart Restaurant Group, directed by CEO and partner Jeffrey Bank. Alicart operates the four Carmine's restaurants as well as Virgil's BBQ, Gabriela's Mexican, and Artie's Delicatessen. The first two Carmine's are in Manhattan. The others are in the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and at the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. There are others in the works. Jeffrey currently has expansion plans on the drawing boards for restaurants in Garden City, Long Island, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; Washington, D.C.; and Orlando, Florida. In reality, Carmine's could go anywhere.
Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook was put together with the same enthusiasm, attention to detail, and great affection as the restaurants. If we do say so ourselves, we think it's going to be just as big a hit! We hope its pages will soon be stained with red sauce, dribbles of olive oil, and sticky fingerprints, allhappy accidents as you discover our recipes. We trust you will find them as rewarding, delicious, and as mouthwatering as we do.
Welcome to Carmine's!
THE HEART AND SOUL OF CARMINE'S
"Artie loved to eat, and he loved to gamble," says Alice Cutler. He also believed a business with a one-word name was easy for customers to remember, so he took the first name of one of his favorite harness-racing drivers for the restaurant. When the New York State Restaurant Association named Artie Restaurateur of the Year in 1996, Alice recalls, he joked about what a "lucky" man he was because the restaurant business was a "perfect fit" for someone who had a passion for food and liked to gamble. He was a risk taker, his wife says, but Artie was a risk taker with a keen business sense and impeccable instincts. Jeffrey Bank recalls Artie's mantra: "The best deals are the ones you walk away from."
When he started building his restaurant empire in the 1980s and lacked a formal office, Artie did most of his business from a bench in the meridian that runs through the center of Broadway on the Upper West Side. After he died, Alice bought that bench at Broadway and 90th Street and put a plaque on it that reads IN MEMORY OF ARTIE, "BUBBA" CUTLER (ARTIE'S FIRST OFFICE).
From those early days, Artie had a vision of what made a restaurant work. His legacy is reflected in our big, sprawling, boisterous Italian American restaurants where day after day and night after night hundreds of New Yorkers and out-of-towners sit down to huge portions of great food meant to be shared. "The simplicity of the concept makes it work," explains Gary Bologna, a partner and our chief operating officer, who has been with Carmine's since 1997. "It's about good service, great food, and family style."
This is all Artie Cutler. Without his vision, his remarkable energy, and his generosity of spirit, Carmine's would not exist. Those of us who worked with him miss him very much.
We love food, and we love to see people enjoying it, digging into platters piled high with freshly cooked pasta, rich red sauces, tender clams, and perfectly cooked meat and sausage. We appreciate cutting-edge cuisine, but that's not us. Instead, we are true to what we call "grandmother's cooking." Our food is the food you might have eaten on Sunday afternoon if you were part of a typical Italian American family in the Bronx or Brooklyn. Because we are from the city, we think of this as New York Italian, but we know most of our dishes are instantly recognizable in other parts of the country, too, and particularly where there is a concentration of Italian Americans.
Carmine's is big and can be noisy, and the number of people who dine with us every day is impressive, with well over 1.3 million customers a year. The sheer volume leads some to assume that high quality cannot be sustained, but nothing could be further from the truth. Alice, our president, readily admits that many of our first-time customers are "blown away" when they taste our food. "Some come in with low expectations," she says, but with the first mouthful, any doubt is dispelled.
Running the kitchen on a classic European model is the brainchild of partner and founding chef Michael Ronis. As a classically trained chef, it never occurred to him to organize our kitchens any other way, and so the sauces are finished just before serving, no pasta is cooked until an order is placed, and the hero sandwiches are assembled right before they are carried to the customer. Even after eighteen years, which translates to lots of success and practice, the same close attention is given to all our food. For instance, Glenn Rolnick, corporate executive chef and partner, makes sure that popular dishes such as Penne alla Vodka are consistent from restaurant to restaurant so that customers are never disappointed. Since our food is fresh and nothing is held over, it's been easy to adapt our recipes for your home kitchen.
We wouldn't dream of doing anything differently.
CARMINE'S WINE CELLAR AND BAR
The wine we pour at Carmine's runs the gamut from earthy and gutsy to crisp and refreshing. Our wine list boasts approximately 120 labels, with bottles that are sophisticated enough for anyone who walks through our doors without being precious, esoteric, or expensive. As with our food, our wine is high in quality and a good value.
Our customers love our magnums, and with good reason. A magnum is 1.5 liters, or equal to two "normal-sized" 750 ml wine bottles. It's a big, bold bottle that never looks out of place on one of our spacious tables, where the platters are piled high and diners happily serve themselves as they sip theirwine. Both our red magnum and our white magnum are festooned with the handsome Carmine's label, and both are bottled for us in central Italy. They don't hold "just any old wine"--not by a long shot! The wines are from a cooperative in Abruzzo called Casal, where the wine is made expressly for us from carefully selected grapes grown nearby and then bottled and shipped to us, all according to our precise specifications.
James Yacyshyn, our beverage director, travels to Abruzzo at least once a year to oversee the process, taste new varietals, and make sure the wine we buy meets our standards as well as the demanding tastes of our customers. There, with the deep blue Adriatic Sea lying at the feet of Casal Bordino and warm breezes wafting from the coastline up to the mountains, the sundrenched vineyards are cool and pleasant. In this breathtaking setting, James tastes some of the finest wines in the world and makes sure they find their way to our cellars.
Our red magnum is a Monte Pulciano d'Abruzzo, which is a dry, medium to full-bodied, ruby red pour with nuances of black cherry and licorice. Needless to say, it marries well with our red sauces and red meat dishes, as well as chicken and veal.
Our white magnum is a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, which is a dry, crisp, light-to medium-bodied, soft golden wine with hints of apple. It's a perfect match for our seafood dishes, fried foods, salads, and lighter meat offerings such as chicken and veal. This is the wine we cook with most frequently, adhering to the adage that you should never cook with a wine you would not drink.
The wine program got off the ground in a big way in 1994 when Robert Castleberry came on board as Carmine's first beverage director. Robert was passionate about wine and was considered one of the finest connoisseurs in the city. Originally, Robert bought our wines from a California vineyard, but in time he turned to Italy to fill our growing need. He found the Casal Bordino cooperative and worked with them to establish our magnum wines.
Robert also expanded our wine list so that it became more global, in keeping with the times. James has refined the list further, and today you can order wines from Italy and California but also from France, Greece, Spain, South America, New Zealand, and Australia. Our mission is to offer wines that drink well with our food--and while we think we meet that mission every day, we always work to make the list better. James also developed two more private-label wines for us: Chianti Classico and Pinot Grigio. Both are exceptionally popular with our customers.
Our attitude about wine is one that translates to the home. We don't try to impress with our wine, yet in the end we always do because we serve good, honest wines that complement the food but never take a backseat to it. In Italy, wine is considered food and is a natural part of the meal. We subscribe to the same principle.
In addition to wine, we serve a lot of cocktails, and you will probably not be astonished to learn that they tend to be oversized. Our martinis are legendary, as is our frozen cosmopolitan, which has become something of a signature drink. While the bar scene is lively, it's evocative of an old-time bar where traditional drinks are the order of the day. We also cater to contemporary tastes with any number of modern rum drinks, flavored vodkas, and Italian liqueurs.
Carmine's is a family restaurant. The food is our primary concern, but we understand the role wine and spirits play in any celebration, whether it's in a restaurant or at home. Our bartenders are hired for their ability to deliver a good experience to the customer without letting anyone overdo it, which is probably pretty much your attitude when you entertain guests in your own home!
OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH CARMINE'S
We take care of our guests. It's apparent from the minute you walk in until the time you leave. Carmine's is loud, and it's a place for a good time. Since therestaurant opened its doors in August of 1990, review after review has praised the food. Even cynical New York foodies rave about it. "Trendy New Yorkers happily [eat] veal parmigiana, meatballs and spaghetti and 'garlic bread' instead of 'bruschetta.' The taste is right on ... we never really had a place like this in the old neighborhood," wrote Arthur Schwartz in the Daily News when the first restaurant opened.
"Carmine's is everything that New York's Italian restaurants have been trying to get away from," cheerfully declared Moira Hodgson in the New York Times around the same time. "Red food ... Chopped garlic and marinara sauce ... It's the sort of place you always hope to discover on City Island or Little Italy but that always lets you down ... . Carmine's is a brilliant conceit," she continued, saying it had been "a long time since I had antipasto like this."
The drumbeat has not slackened over the years. Fodor's online travel site talks about the "mountains of such popular, toothsome items as fried calamari, linguine with white clam sauce, chicken parmigiana, and veal saltimbocca," and warns readers they will "inevitably order too much, but most of the food tastes just as wonderful the next day."
In a December 2000 roundup of restaurants handpicked for celebrations, the New York Times listed Carmine's, saying it was "not subtle or sophisticated cuisine but party food intended for boisterous groups who want to shovel it in while enjoying the convivial atmosphere."
In a review on Frommer's Web site, the writer describes the dining room at Carmine's as "vast enough to deserve its own zip code ... [yet] remarkably [the kitchen] turns out better pasta and entrees than most twenty-table Italian restaurants." Customers writing on restaurant blogs have called the food "incredible" with "simple Italian recipes just done well ... [that] seem new, leaving all past experiences in its dust."
We bask in this praise but never become complacent. We get up every day knowing that today our most important job is to keep the restaurant humming so that the kitchen turns out consistently delicious food with just the right attitude to keep our customers happy and well fed. With our recipes at your fingertips, you will be able to keep your loved ones equally happy and well fed. When you find a recipe for only two servings, remember that you can easily double or triple it. On the other hand, we often load up a table with three, four, or more dishes, which explains why some recipes do not serve a lot of people; when served all together, there is lots of food!
We hope our love affair with Carmine's will become yours!
Photographs copyright © 2008 by Alex Martinez Book design and composition by Gretchen Achilles Production Manager: Cheryl Mamaril