Cooking comes naturally to Antonietta Mele.
“It’s second nature to me. I don’t measure anything. I just cook.
“It’s just who I am.”
Mele has worked in a restaurant kitchen most of her life.
Shortly after immigrating to Canada from Italy as a little girl, Mele’s parents, Salvatore and Teresa Lopetrone, started Riverside Pizzeria in Point Edward. Riverside became legendary for its pizza made by the Lopetrone family for 22 years on Michigan Avenue.
Mele grew up helping in the pizzeria and living with her family behind the restaurant.
As a young woman, she realized her dream of owning a dress shop and left the food industry for 15 years. She stayed in retail until her husband, Louie, convinced her to return to restaurant life.
It took convincing. Antonietta knew the kind of hours involved in running a restaurant.
But Louie was persuasive. With his own background in restaurants, he wanted to be in the food business and knew his wife would have a central role.
“She is too modest to say it, but Antonietta is the lynchpin in all of this,” says Louie. “She’s the centrepiece.”
In 1992, the Meles opened Salvatore’s Trattoria E. Ristorante in the same building the Lopetrones had operated the original Riverside Pizzeria.
They wanted to bring traditional family-style Italian dining to Sarnia-Lambton. An authentic trattoria serves family style in large bowls so everyone at the table can share, and there is no set dinner menu.
Instead, the wait staff provides an “oral” menu to explain what is available each night, depending on the fresh local food available, said Antonietta.
The first thing she and Louie did was import numerous pasta making machines from Italy so she could make fresh pasta every morning.
Twenty-two years later, those same machines are still working, pumping out pasta for capelli d’angeli, linguine, fettuccini, ravioli and tortellini.
Restaurateurs from both sides of the border have come to Salvatore’s over the years to see the machines in action and talk with Antonietta about making fresh pasta.
She used recipes passed down through generations of her family to produce her sauces: tomato, meat, rosa, alfredo, pesto, Bolognese and pomodoro.
She and her kitchen staff of five produce 40 to 80 litres of sauce a day, and serve both lunch and dinner. That keeps Antonietta at the restaurant 12 hour a day, starting at 6:30 a.m.
On occasion, she breaks from her routine and accepts invitations to assist other restaurant owners develop their menus.
“I couldn’t do it without my long-time kitchen staff,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with a gift and I like to cook but I’ve had a lot of help along the way.”
She is currently working with cook Sonia Koundakjian who Antonietta says is also a natural at the stove.
“You either have it or you don’t,” she said. “I truly believe that.”
Salvatore’s Trattoria E. Ristorante is at 105 Michigan Ave.
Capelli d’angeli – aglio e olio (Angels Hair, Garlic and Oil) Serves 4
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6-8 twists freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sprigs finely chopped parsley
500 grams San Giovanni’s Specialty Food’s fresh Capelli d’angeli (Angel Hair)
Salt to taste
While water comes to rolling boil, pour oil into 12-inch skillet or larger. Over low heat, sauté garlic until golden, add parsley and half the pepper and parsley, stir together.
Add pasta to boiling water, salt to taste and within one minute, because it’s ‘fresh’ pasta, remove and drain. Pasta should be cooked al dente. Add drained pasta to skillet, mix well with oil and add remaining pepper and parsley. Mangia, mangia … enjoy!
– Cathy Dobson