Family recipes on the menu bring back the power of food made from love, magic and a little history. Whether it’s your mom, nonna or uncle’s secret sauce, you can rest assured no one slaps their name on a dish unless it has achieved perfection through generational lore.
Polpette Della Nonna, $16
Amore Trattoria Italiana, 5080 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park
Vittoria Bandinelli’s dish features eggplant and ricotta patties topped with tomato sauce, béchamel and portabella mushrooms. It’s also served with potatoes and a fresh vegetable. When Amore owners Jenna and Maurizio Arcidiacono lived with Nonna Bandinelli in Italy, Chef Jenna made a point to learn from her grandma. “I told her, ‘I know you’ve got recipes up your sleeve you can feed me or teach me to make,’” Arcidiacono said. This menu staple is for vegetarians seeking something extraordinary. So, does a family recipe have a lot of pull when it comes to orders? “Of course. You get that warm cuddly feeling when you think about your grandma, so you want to try that recipe,” she said.
Mom’s Meatloaf, $14
Public, 131 E. Main St., Zeeland
When you go through six or seven pans of meatloaf in a week, you know you’ve got a hit on your hands. Recreating nostalgia is a tall order, but owner Lucas Grill was in the kitchen trenches with mom right by his side. “She’s my inspiration for becoming a chef,” Grill said. The meal comes with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and has its roots in stretching ingredients. “My mother grew up in a very modest family that did a lot of hunting. You’d fill the dish with multiple meats to carry it farther,” Grill said. Venison was mixed with ground beef back then, but today’s version at Public utilizes a combination of pork and beef. Mom’s take on presentation called for the meatloaf to be cut into thick slices, then fried in butter for that culinary contrast of crunchy exterior and moist interior. Before the main course, try snacking on another family treasure: Nanna’s Pub Cheese, gifted to all the grandchildren at Christmas. It has horseradish, dry mustard and onion flavors.
Pasta A’ la Chef, $14
Licari’s Sicilian Pizza Kitchen, 2869 Knapp St. NE, Grand Rapids
A Licari family secret, this attraction starts with gemelli pasta and is topped with tomato cream sauce, along with peas, carrots and ham. The recipe comes from co-owner Lisa Licari’s mother-in-law, Angela Licari. It reflects Licari’s Sicilian roots that have trickled down into the restaurant’s offerings. It’s revered enough to make the menu and is quite labor-intensive. “Back in the day, it was highly requested because it was only made for special occasions — birthdays or holidays,” Licari said. It’s the ultimate comfort food with velvety sauce, sweet notes and salty and smoky flavors.
Grandma Gigi’s Greek Salad, $10
Everyday People Cafe, 11 E. Center St., Douglas
Each time owner Matt Balmer even considers removing this iconic salad from the menu, he catches heat. Georgia Giannakopulos, affectionately known as grandma Gigi, invented this salad that still captures hearts. The Greek family matriarch served her signature salad at family meals and holidays. It features the typical Greek salad ingredients with a red wine vinaigrette. “She’d make big bowls always with her Greek dressing,” said Balmer. While it’s a simple recipe, it was a big, important part of family life. “She’d overdress the salad, but we loved it that way,” he said. Balmer put it on the menu about 20 years ago to be something familiar but just different enough to be interesting.