Joe Giresi doesn’t serve meals, he serves an experience.
For a little more than a year, Joe and his wife Caroline have been serving small groups authentic, 100% homemade Sicilian dinners. A few times a month, normally Friday or Saturday nights, the downstairs kitchen and dining area of their Lakeshore Road home is transformed into a restaurant called “La Casa Mia” – Italian meaning “my house”.
Diners get to enjoy a five-plus course meal that will make you feel as if you’re in the Old Country.
It all began as a fundraiser for youth in their congregation, Lighthouse Community Church.
Joe and Caroline would auction off an authentic Italian dining experience to the highest bidder. Word spread quickly and soon more people wanted to try Joe’s cooking.
“After we have done that four or five times, people started saying we should do it on a regular basis. So we thought let’s give it a shot,” said Joe.
A few tweaks to the kitchen and tips from Lambton Public Health was all Joe and Caroline needed to get their Lambton DineSafe green card and start serving meals from their home.
“Everything down here is used for the dinners,” said Joe. “We have our own kitchen upstairs.”
This Italian meal isn’t your ordinary spaghetti and meatballs.
Joe, who was born and raised in Sicily, follows recipes he’s inherited.
“A lot of the food we make is stuff I’ve grown up with or stuff my mum used to make,” he said.
The meal is kicked off with an antipasto, an appetizer platter that includes Joe’s home cured olives, followed by a palate cleanse, a soup, another palate cleanse, then a pasta dish.
Joe said the palate cleanse is important because “when you taste your next plate you can really taste the flavour because it’s not drowned by what you’ve had before.”
Before the main course, Joe serves granita, a sweetened and flavoured icy drink. The main course is often a chicken dish or Sicilian sausages, but Joe has also served steelhead trout and hopes to serve swordfish sometime soon.
“Sicilians are big on swordfish,” he said.
For the final course, dessert, there’s an ocean of possibilities.
“Our big thing is tiramisu. We also make cannolis. We also make what I call mama’s dessert, which is what my mom used to make as a kid. It’s a creme and hazelnut dessert. We do have what we call a Sicilian lady finger dessert. It’s all make from scratch,” Joe said.
Dessert always comes with homemade gelato with flavours ranging from almond and pistachio to olive oil.
If you’re not full yet, Joe and Caroline finish the meal by serving fresh coffee, either espresso or cappuccino, with biscotti. The entire process is wrapped up by drinking a bitter digestive – a Sicilian tradition.
The whole meal is about a four hour experience.
“We’re not rushing anyone. We want them to enjoy it, take their time, have laughs,” said Joe.
“We’re doing this because we want people to experience the culture,” said Joe. “People may never get the chance to go to Italy or Sicily.”
Yvette Caron, who dined at La Casa Mia last weekend, agreed Joe and Caroline offer a unique experience.
“When you step downstairs you’ve arrived in Sicily,” said Caron. “You don’t have to go to Italy, just go to La Casa Mia.”
And the food was marvellous, said Caron.
“There wasn’t one thing that you could say was the best. It was all the best,” said Caron. “I can’t pick one word to describe it.”
“We’re still talking about it,” she said.
Preparing the meals may be a lot of work, but Joe wouldn’t consider it a job.
“I’ll be honest, I just love cooking. People sometimes ask how do you make that, I just put a lot of love in what I make,” he said.
A flight from Sarnia to Rome will set you back almost $1,500. But if you want an authentic Italian experience, you can go to Lakeshore Road on a weekend night.