By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Many families that celebrate the Christmas holiday tend to do so with at least one big, home-cooked meal. Whether that meal takes place Christmas Eve, or the holiday proper — or maybe both — differs from family to family.
For others, the big tradition is to go out. Forget dirtying the kitchen and slaving over the stove for a big gathering ... why not let someone else handle the mess and stress?
Most restaurants, if they’re not closed for Christmas Eve, are at least on shorter hours the night before the big day. Almost none are open on the 25th.
But the twin cities are home to a few restaurants that are welcoming guests for dinner on the night of the 24th, and at least one will be celebrating with customers on the big day. For those of you who haven’t made big plans yet, we’ve rounded up a list of some fine-dining options for Christmas Eve dinner.
Crazy Jakes, North Tonawanda
These guys really are crazy because they’re open Christmas Eve and Day.
Bar manager Jimmy Destino said the restaurant will be open regular hours Christmas Eve until at least midnight, perhaps as late as 2 a.m. Christmas Day it opens at 5 p.m. again until at least midnight, perhaps as late as 2 a.m.
Both days will feature full menus and bar specials.
When asked why the restaurant keeps things going on the big holiday, his quick response was “Why not?”
“Most people are done (Christmas Day) by 3 or 4 p.m. with their family,” Destino said, adding that Christmas Eve is a busy night, though they tend to do average business on the 25th.
The restaurant accepts and encourages reservations for the holiday, so the staff knows how to plan for the days.
Marotto’s Restaurant, Kenmore
This Italian restaurant will be open 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Christmas Eve.
Owner Mark Marotto said the restaurant is jam-packed, but welcomes large family groups up to around 24 people. He said many of his customers that night come year after year, making the restaurant part of their own family tradition.
And while the real Santa Claus is busy that night jumping from house to house delivering toys, Marotto said sometimes — emphasis on the word “sometimes” — the restaurant gets a visit from one of his helpers.
“There’s one family (that, sometimes,) one of their uncles comes in dressed as Santa Claus and circulates around the restaurant,” he said.
A self-proclaimed harmonica virtuoso, Marotto said he provides some Christmas ambiance with periodic carols — he knows “every tune in the book” — and even some eggnog on the menu. The restaurant’s full menu will be available, in addition to specials featuring fresh fish, homemade lasagna and “a lot of steaks and chops.”
He said he thinks many families enjoy going out to dinner for Christmas Eve, particularly when they’re expecting lots of family visiting from out of town.
“I think it boils down to convenience, especially when there are larger groups,” he said.
Reservations are recommended, especially for large parties, because the restaurant tends to be busy Christmas Eve.
Even though this North Tonawanda restaurant will be opened for only four hours Christmas Eve — from 3 to 7 p.m. — it too is expected to be packed, said owner Lorrie May.
“It’s always been a big restaurant night for my entire life” of working in the industry, she said.
The restaurant will feature a smaller version of its regular menu, just to make things “a little simpler for the kitchen,” May said.
May echoed Marotto’s thoughts, saying she thinks a lot of extended families and those with family in from out of town would rather go out for dinner than spend all evening cooking Christmas Eve dinner.
And if people are going to go out for the holiday, they’re going to go out in style.
“You see more people going to a fine-dining restaurant for Christmas Eve than going somewhere like (a diner). I think (people like to go somewhere) a little more fancy,” May said. “There are a lot of places that are not open so that limits your choices as well.”
Like all of the other restaurant owners we talked to, Jim Pane was quick to point out that reservations are definitely appreciated Christmas Eve because things can get pretty packed that night.
He said the appeal of restaurants like his and other locally owned establishments is that they can offer seating for larger groups.
“Some of the franchises want smaller groups,” he said. “We have space for groups of 15 or 20.
“People enjoy the convenience of going to a restaurant and it’s a family day so for an independent family restaurant like us, we cater to families and large groups of people.”
And some of those large groups have been returning to Pane’s for Christmas Eve year after year.
“One lady calls every year for a restaurant. It’s like a tradition for them after church,” Pane said.
Pane’s will be open 11:15 a.m. until 8 p.m. Dec. 24 and will accept reservations until 7 p.m. They will offer a full menu with a variety of Christmas Eve specials, like arancini, clams casino, surf and turf, and banana pepper parmesan.Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.