Listening to Catherine Hustler talk about how she invented the cocktail.
My conversation with Anne Macri and her son Gary was more like the Newlywed Game than an interview. I asked them both similar questions, although my chat with Anne was more free-flowing. They had differing answers to most questions but were spot on with one. I asked Gary how the move to Lewiston two years ago changed the business. He jokingly (well, sort of) said he only moved the restaurant to Lewiston rather than retiring so his mother didn’t start cleaning toilets in people’s houses.
Um, well, that’s not quite what Anne said, but she was honest, saying the move to Lewiston was done so she could continue the restaurant and have a good reason to keep going.
And going they are. You could go to Macri’s Italian Grille any day of the week (except Tuesdays) and find a busy dining room and hopping bar. Prior to opening when asked if it was going to serve the All-American fare that was served at the former Clarkson House, Anne said no, only what you would get at an Italian grille.
Vincent and Erma (“Mama” to all) D’Avolio (link here) bought DelFredo’s Restaurant on Main Street near Cosmos Dry cleaners and the current Niagara Falls Library. They owned the restaurant for about 10 years, not changing the name until Vincent D’Avolio passed away at age 59. Mama with her daughter Anne and son-in-law James Macri then moved to the City Market where they named their restaurant aptly Macri’s. Mama told Anne “just give me then years” and, as Anne says it, she gave her three ten year terms. About 32 years later Mama died only months after moving from the Market to Summit Park Mall in 2005 at the lovely age of 96.
Anne and Gary both tell of children and grandchildren working in the restaurant. Anne knows the work ethic instilled in her family is why they are all successful in their own right. Gary says he made his children work in the business so they would want to do something else. They are all successful in fields other than dining. Anne tells a lovely story of a wooden bench which Gary still owns where the children would dip their hands in milk and put the seeds on the rolls ready for the oven.
It’s hard to be hungry at Macri’s but as Anne described something she likes to cook at home I actually heard my stomach growl. She described this rice dish where she prepares mini meatballs cooked in sauce. Chopped hardboiled eggs are tossed with the rice and meatballs along with Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheese and it is baked until bubbly. Another family recipe not on the menu is lasagna rolls are pasta dough rolled out in a big sheet then cooked. They are laid out and filled with those same mini meatballs, hardboiled eggs and Asiago cheese and rolled up dry. They are placed in a pan with a little sauce on the bottom and baked until hot. The baking reminds me of manicotti (my own mother’s specialty) with a meat filling. This family fare is not on the menu but Anne promises me that the next time she makes it she will give me a call. Let’s just say I will wait by the phone until I get the call — cannot wait!
I know asking a restaurateur to name their favorite dish is a lot like asking who their favorite child is. I asked anyway and discovered Gary likes the veal parm and gnocchi. Anne also loves the gnocchi although because they are homemade in the kitchen everyday they are less likely to eat it. Another favorite of Anne’s Pasta Trotta (capellini pasta — think angel hair — with mushrooms, red roasted peppers and artichoke hearts with a white wine, roasted garlic sauce and Asiago cheese).
My family has its favorites, as well. My husband never even bothers with a menu and goes straight to rigatoni and meat sauce. It is rigatoni pasta with their sweet and smooth red sauce with ground sausage. It never comes home in a take-out container.
I love anything made with eggplant. Anything. Most recently I had eggplant rollatini. The eggplant is breaded and fried then rolled with a filling of ricotta cheese and topped with red sauce. Sometimes I get eggplant lasagna style. In this dish the eggplant is used instead of lasagna noodles and baked with ricotta and topped with sauce. Veal Melinzana is breaded veal, breaded eggplant with roasted peppers, mozzarella served with linguini. Ridiculous. My son loves chicken parm with gnocchi.
I am always so impressed with Anne’s memory. She seems to know everyone who walks in the door, even strangers. I asked her what her trick is (this Foodie has a terrible mind for names) and she credits her skill on her job, years ago, as a telephone operator. She remembers people by association. That’s a neat trick and I admire her for it.
Anne is the mother of two boys and two girls. She has grandchildren and great grandchildren. Gary has been married for 33 years and has three children including a daughter who was just married on Saturday. When not at the restaurant Anne loves the theater, movies and loves to exercise. She works out five days a week (cardio and weights), has her hair done on Saturday (I love that term!), goes to Mass on Sunday then visits with her sister Theresa and her nephew Dan. Gary loves golfing and hunting
Gary knows wine and is skilled at guiding people to the right match for their palate and food choices. In Gary’s typical self-deprecating style, he is quick to say that any wine goes with anything. There is no pretension here.
One day my husband and I ordered Chianti with two glasses. The server (Gary informed me this young man is no longer employed there) came to our table with the bottle under his arm and two full glasses of red wine. We expected him to walk by and deliver the glasses to another table. When he set them down we assumed he simply did not have enough hands. He opened up the bottle and went on his way. We still chuckle about this!
If you go, pace yourself. The serving sizes are very generous. Try to save some room for dessert and have at least one cannoli. They are pastry shells dipped in chocolate and filled with ricotta and chocolate chips. In “The Godfather,” when Clemenza said “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” he just may have gone to Macri’s.