A Taste of Home at Carmella's Café

Carmella's Café Carmella's Café

La Gazzetta spoke with co-manager of Carmella's Café, Lisa Kelso.

La Gazzetta (LG): Good afternoon, Lisa. Thanks so much for inviting La Gazzetta to your restaurant. The minute you walk in you see old family photos. That's not a photo-shopped display. Tell us about your family.

Carmella's: Yes, those are real family photos. Well, this is my family's first restaurant. My mom and dad opened it in 2011. My mom has a background in catering. My dad has experience in leasing and locating restaurants in plazas. My sister, Laura, and I manage Carmella's. My brother-in-law, Rory, is our chef. You see, we're all family here. Our Italian roots go back to Naples. We've been in the Mahoning Valley for four generations, starting with my great-grandparents, who first settled in Youngstown.

LG: Tell us about your maternal grandmother, Carmella Nocera, and her cooking.

Carmella's: We always had delicious Sunday dinners at Grandma Carmella's house. She served the traditional pastas, meat and seafood dishes. We decided her food was so good that we opened up an Italian restaurant built on her great recipes. She's from New Castle, but her parents were from Naples. All our recipes come to us from Carmella.

LG: I've eaten at many Italian restaurants, but have never seen so many uniquely named dishes. Kagoots! Chudda!

Carmella's: Kagoots? That's always a good story. Everyone likes this dish. We didn't even know how to spell this dialect word for zucchini. Our family has always enjoyed this vegetable, hot or cold. As kids, we'd always eat it before Mom could get it out of the frying pan. Chudda Eggplant is very good, too. It carries the name of an old friend of the family.

LG: What makes the food at Carmella's Café taste so much like home cooking?

Carmella's: It's my grandmother's cooking, just on a bigger scale. Nothing is pre-cooked. It's all sautéed to order. If you want Chicken Marsala without mushrooms, our chef will cook it for you. My mom is here early to make our sauce, meatballs and wedding soup.

LG: Please describe the layout of the restaurant.

Carmella's: We wanted everyone to feel comfortable. We thought that having raised booths would offer our customers more privacy. My dad and his friend did a lot of the carpentry. My aunt from California, an interior designer, helped plan the decor with warm, inviting colors. We have a bar where the large screen TV's volume is always turned down to a minimum. There is a deck in the rear. So we have three defined spaces to suit our customers' preferences.

LG: What are your most popular entrees?

Carmella's: Chudda Eggplant, Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Française, Haddock Française, and Chicken Risotto. People think that seafood is just for Friday, but we have fresh seafood all week. Our Italian Love Cake is very popular. It's a marble cake, with mascarpone and ricotta cheese and whipped chocolate icing. It's tiramisu without the coffee liqueur.

LG: Everyone talks about the bread you serve.

Carmella's: When we first started, we decided to use the great bread they bake at The Bread Chef. You can't beat it. It's really just next door. We have a good relationship. We promote each other.

LG: What makes your restaurant unique?

Carmella's: Our food has earned us a lot of repeat customers. They've gotten to know our family. They come in and ask how my children are doing, how my mom and dad are. And because of the made-to-order cuisine, our restaurant fare has a very home-style taste.

Carmella's Café, home of old-fashioned Italian cuisine, is located in the Southwestern Plaza, at 850 E. Western Reserve Rd., Boardman, OH. The restaurant was recently featured in a very favorable review on local TV, Channel 33.