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- June 4, 2017
Maria’s Italian Kitchen in Sherman Oaks is not only a great place for the occasional Italian feast but with the eat club and catering loyalty rewards system, frequent customers get special treatment. Not that you really need encouragement to dine frequently since the authentic Italian cuisine at Maria’s Italian Kitchen crafted from high-quality ingredients with old country spirit will be what really calls you back time after time. A couple special touches at Maria’s Italian Kitchen are the homemade salad dressings and the light menu for those desiring lower calorie options. The Mama’s meat lasagna with homemade meat sauce is also a favorite. Plenty of Italian classics await, including tiramisu for dessert.
Madelyn Alfano had four strikes against her when she decided to open an Italian restaurant in the Valley 30 years ago. “I was 28, I was a woman going into the restaurant business, and I’m blond,” Madelyn says during our conversation at Maria’s Italian Kitchen in Sherman Oaks.
With her parents’ coaching, Madelyn brought a little bit of Hoboken to Sherman Oaks. Lower real estate prices coaxed her over the hill at a time when “you needed a passport to cross Mulholland.” Since then Maria’s Italian Kitchen has become a chain of 10 restaurants throughout the Valley, the Westside, Pasadena, Agoura Hills and most recently in Oxnard.
As mother and daughter celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the original Maria’s Kitchen and 30 years in Sherman Oaks, Madelyn Alfano, now 57, says she’s still proud to be cooking old-school meals and believes the test of a good traditional Italian restaurant is the chicken Parmesan. She loves to meet adult customers who tell her, “I used to deliver pizza for you.”
8 oz. béchamel sauce 5 6″ x 8″ carrot pasta sheets* 34 oz. pumpkin puree 32 oz. cooked ground chicken 32 oz. roasted butternut squash 16 oz. fontina cheese, shredded 16 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded Preheat oven to 350°. Spread 2 oz. of béchamel sauce on the bottom of a 6″ x 8″ baking dish. Place one sheet of pasta on top of spread. Spread 2 oz. of pumpkin puree and 2 oz. of béchamel sauce on top of pasta. Place 8 oz. of ground chicken, 8 oz. of pumpkin puree, 8 oz. squash and 4 oz. of each type of cheese evenly in pan. Repeat three times, finishing with a layer of pasta on top. Spread remaining béchamel on top of the top layer of pasta. Cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Bake for 50 minutes. *Available at Whole Foods Market or through Maria’s Italian Kitchen. Béchamel Sauce 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. butter 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 1 cup milk ½ tsp. salt ⅛ tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture turns a light golden color (about 6 to 7 minutes). In a separate pan, heat milk until just below boiling. Gradually add hot milk to butter mixture, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and season with salt and nutmeg. Maria’s Ground Chicken 2 oz. olive oil 1 oz. shallots, chopped 2 lbs. ground chicken 2 oz. Marsala wine 2 oz. water Kosher salt to taste Ground nutmeg to taste White pepper to taste Saute shallots and oil in a hot 12″ pan until light brown. Add all other ingredients. Cook over lower to medium heat until chicken is done and liquid has evaporated (about 5 to 8 minutes).
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Madelyn’s Hoboken, N.J.-born mother, Maria, learned by watching her mother, a native of Naples, Italy, make home-cooked meals for her family. Those cooking lessons came in handy later on when Maria and her husband moved their young family across the country to open their Brentwood grocery store.
Staff at Maria’s are like extended family. District Operations Manager Don Froehlich, who has been on the Maria’s team for 30 years, went to high school with Madelyn.
Madelyn’s mom is restaurant namesake, Maria Alfano, who is now 83. Maria brought the old family recipes with her when she was called west from Hoboken, New Jersey, to help her brothers Matty and Mikey establish Matteo’s Restaurant in Westwood in the early ‘60s. She fell in love with California, and in 1986 she and husband Donald brought their five young children to LA.
“My mother tells me everything I do wrong,” Madelyn laughs. “She isn’t shy about giving criticism and advice.” Perhaps mom knows best, especially as Maria’s Italian Kitchens continue to be a home away from home for many of its regular customers.
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Maria’s meat lasagna, a winning combination of homemade meat sauce, pasta, seasoned ricotta and mozzarella, is one of its bestsellers. The eggplant Parmesan, which takes hours to prepare, is also popular.
Maria, who refused to let surplus meat and produce go to waste, began cooking meals for the family on a portable skillet in the back of the store. Customers liked what they smelled and, before long, the matriarch was selling freshly-cooked meals at the market.
Her sister, Louise Berardis, designs the interiors of the eateries; brother, Matthew Alfano, addresses plumbing and electrical issues; and nephew, J.J. Berardis, is a sous chef for the successful chain. And Maria?
One famous Maria’s recipe didn’t come from Hoboken: the rosemary bread. In the early days when the restaurant was mainly a takeout/delivery establishment, Madelyn was surprised when two customers came in, sat down and asked for some pre-dinner bread and butter.
“Italian food is about simplicity,” he says. “It’s about building layers of flavor so that every ingredient has a purpose.” That kind of care preparing, cooking and serving food follows a precedent set many years ago by Madelyn’s mother and grandmother.
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