Tonawanda News — Long before the trend of cooking with locally grown foods, a Niagara Falls restaurant staff was creating dishes with produce from a huge garden located only steps from the kitchen.
This time of year, John Ognibene, owner of the Casa Nova Italian American Restaurant on Military Road, starts every day in the restaurant garden, pulling fresh eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and much more from the earth. Much of it ends up in the dishes he'll prepare that evening, as fresh as he can make them.
It's a time-honored tradition which began when the Casa Nova was founded in 1975 by John's dad, Ignazio, after closing a flower shop he ran for 14 years on Pine Avenue, called Everybody's Florist.
Shortly after the restaurant opened, Ignazio, known as "Nash," created a large garden outside the restaurant, which on a recent September afternoon was still abundantly producing enough vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, with extra to spare. As John stood beside the garden he pointed to five 40-foot rows of swiss chard, large beautiful, green leaves nearly ready to be picked, surely to find their way into an upcoming restaurant dish.
When asked if it there was a cost savings to growing his own produce, John laughed.
"Save? If you count my time, I'm saving nothing, except maybe mileage on my car when I drive to local produce markets," he said. "It's just so convenient to come out here and have what you need at your fingertips."
His father, Nash, who was 23 when he came to the United States from Italy, is 83 years old now, and can't garden much anymore. But almost every time he comes to the restaurant he orders the eggplant parmesan, a restaurant specialty, sometimes having it six days in a row.