Joe's Italian Christmas
Forget the chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Joe's got something better.
Just in time for the holidays, Joe's Italian Kitchen in Boone is serving batches of homemade desserts - not necessarily stocking stuffers, but filling all the same.
Ranging from cakes to cookies to biscotti, the dessert menu has one thing in common - every item is homemade, courtesy of restaurant owner Joe Cafaro.
This year, Cafaro has cooked up dozens of cuccidati cookies, weighing in at 100 pounds.
"It's an old Sicilian recipe I learned from the ladies of the old country," Cafaro said.
Cuccidati are basically fig cookies, filled with dates, almonds, honey, brandy and rum. The filling takes two weeks to prepare, after which the cookie is topped with an orange glaze and sprinkles. Cuccidati are selling in small- and large-sized tins, at $4 and $10, respectively.
"My guess is they won't make it to Christmas," Cafaro said. "When they run out, they run out. It's a limited supply."
He's also prepared Italian wedding cookies, almond flavored and topped with powdered sugar, available at the same cost of the cuccidati, as well as pignoli cookies, similar to a macaroon, with pine nuts and powdered sugar.
Though Cafaro continues to make batches of biscotti (with chocolate chips, cranberries and almonds) and anise toast for the holidays, he plans to sweeten the menu further with homemade honey balls. This item is sized like a marble, packed with vanilla and orange zest. Once the dough balls are fried, honey and lemon zest is heated alongside toasted almonds, and the balls are rolled around in the mixture. The result is a combination of honey balls topped with sprinkles and shaped like a Christmas tree.
Cafaro's pizelle cookies are comprised of anise wafers topped with powdered sugar, resulting in what he called "light, crispy, little pieces of heaven."
The icing on the cake, in this instance, is literal. Cafaro's wife, Cindy, is putting her own family recipes to use by offering homemade cakes in two sizes (6 inch or 9 inch).
Varieties include carrot, red velvet, tiramisu and myriad cheesecakes, such as Italian cheesecake (with ricotta cheese), chocolate, marble, espresso, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, Almond Joy and raspberry chocolate.
"All the cookie recipes have been handed down for five generations," Cafaro said. "The cookies are just for the holidays, but the cakes we can make year-round."
In addition, Joe's continues to serve its popular pastries, from tiramisu to cannoli to the infamous "Death by Chocolate."
And that's just dessert.
Cafaro, a self-described "eat-conomic specialist," is still boasting his "Lunch for Less" specials, in which patrons can enjoy freshly made and considerably filling meals starting at $5.
Lunch-sized portions, served only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., include any of 19 sandwiches, six varieties of stromboli, nine pasta varieties and a 7-inch personal pan pizza with one topping.
Cafaro's also fixing to add about 30 Cajun-themed items to his menu in celebration of Mardi Gras, which starts in February 2010.
Though prices and portions have changed, one thing hasn't. Cafaro's father, Tony, who turned 87 the day after Thanksgiving, still arrives at the restaurant every morning to hand-roll the meatballs, just like his mother taught him.
To the Cafaros, tradition is not only important - it's also tasty.
Joe's Italian Kitchen is located at 190 Boone Heights Drive in Boone. For more information, call (828) 263-9200 or visit http://www.joesitaliankitchen.com.
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