Finding the best Italian neighborhood restaurant for take-out is fun! Experiences with family and friends are what make life joyful and savoring favorite foods from your childhood brings those memories to life! Every ethnic neighborhood boasts a great local deli/bakery/grocery/restaurant where traditional homemade foods and imported ingredients can be easily acquired. Often the establishment is owned and operated by a single family for generations. I urge you to find your favorite neighborhood restaurant, and make it your alternate kitchen for those days when you don’t feel like cooking and want a taste of home. Gather up a smorgasbord of nibbles, fresh bread, prepared dishes, a couple bottles of wine, and enjoy some quality time with family and friends. Tom & I spent a recent Saturday with good friends Jeanmarie, Renee and Chuck visiting Freddy’s Pizza & Gelateria in Cicero, Illinois. Cicero is a famous - and infamous -- suburb west of Chicago that holds a special place in Chicagoland history. It was home to Al Capone and his organized crime operation in the 1920’s, as well as home to a booming manufacturing industry, and two - yes two - horse-racing tracks! The residents of Cicero are proud, salt-of-the-earth types from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It is there you will find Freddy’s corner store at 61st Avenue & 16th Street.
I knew it was a great Italian family-owned joint when I saw that the cooking was done in the attached house next-door! Freddy’s has been around for over 50 years. The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the smell of aged cheese and salami. It is a small store, so small that it only handles a single line of people between the aisles. Be ready to order by the time you get to the counter or Nonna will give you a menacing stare, and possibly ban you from the store for a week. And its cash-only.
Luckily for us, were were with my Sicilian friend Renee, who grew in the area, and knew the best things to order.
We grabbed some Sicilian-style pizza, sliced Porchetta Roast (picture from Freddy's website), homemade Sausage and Peppers, Pepperoncini Bread, Lemon Chicken, Pork Braciole, Ricotta Gnocchi in Vodka sauce, Spring Vegetable Frittata, Fried Artichoke Hearts, Tomato & Onion Salad, Prosciutto, Hot and Mild Salami, Mixed Olives, aged Asiago cheese, sliced Provolone, and loaves of fresh (still-warm) baked bread. OMG, we had to wait until we got back to Renee & Chuck’s beautiful home in La Grange to eat it. That 20 minute drive was torture.
Renee and Jeanmarie orchestrated putting all the food we gathered in beautiful dishes and casually arranged on platters. The guys uncorked the wine. The table was set with a feast. We sat the rest of the afternoon nibbling, talking, laughing and drinking wine. It was such a special day to share with good friends. We had tons of food leftover, as planned, and we each took home enough for several more meals. That is the Italian way. Jeanmarie coined the day “Mangia in La Grangia”. Perfetto!
Have you ever eaten at Rino's Place in East Boston? Don't get me started!
What is your favorite Italian neighborhood restaurant? I’d love to hear your suggestions and memories.