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Inside Joe's

Great cooking doesn't happen overnight

Sicily, locally called Sicilia, was once the centre of the known civilized world. You can find widespread traces of its rich history in the form of stone ruins, ancient temples, monastaries, outdoor theatres and ampitheatres. Not to mention seemingly endless stretches of vineyards and olive groves.

Provinces of Sicily'Sicily is also is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. As the topographical map to the right shows, most of Sicily consists of hills with a few higher mountains achieving special prominence. One of these - the dark red-brown spot - is the famous Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe.

Streams flowing south from the slopes of Etna feed small rivers which meander through the vast and fertile alluvial plain of Catania on the east coast (the large green area). Catania is also the name of the province and the principal city. (If you're interested in learning a little more about Sicily, you might want to start Here. Or perhaps Here.)

A passion is born - Growing up in suburban Catania, Giuseppi Mauceri took an early interest in food and cooking. It was only natural. His father, a former army cook, owned a combination fruit shop and deli, and his mother was well appreciated among family and friends for her culinary skills.

From an early age, Giuseppi would hang around the kitchen while his mother prepared the evening meals, watching and learning. In time, cooking became his passion.

Multicultural melting pot - Sicily was a pretty good place to nurture this passion. The cuisine happens to be the most varied and exciting in Italy, thanks in large part to a succession of conquerers. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, the French and Spanish all introduced new ingredients, styles and traditions during their stays. In Catania the Greek influence is particularly strong. In fact, the current name comes from the Greek name Katane.

CassataSicily also stands out from other Italian regions with its many choices of sweets, fruits and ice creams. Some gourmets go so far as to rate Sicilian desserts the best in the world, a delicious legacy of the Arabs, convent nuns and continental chefs. You've no doubt heard of cannoli and cassata, but there are lots of other treats in all categories: cakes, candied fruit, cookies, filled pastries, fried pastries, granita (water ices), marzipan and sorbetti (sorbet). But even if none of these tantalising desserts existed, Sicilians would still be able to cap off their meals with some of the freshest, most succulent fruit anywhere. And to help wash it down, Sicily's world-famous sweet wine, marsala.

A better life - When Giuseppi was 13, the Mauceri family immigrated to Australia...and a brand new culture. Giuseppi became Joe. Buon giorno was replaced by G'day. And some pizzas were made with pineapple slices. One thing that didn't change for Joe was the time he'd spend watching his mother create wonderful dishes in her new kitchen. After she came home from her new job as a chef.

Following graduation Joe became a mason, later adding tiling and carpentry to his résumé before becoming a fully licensed builder in 1974. But during his many years in construction Joe never lost his passion for cooking. And he never stopped thinking about getting into the food industry. Some 15 years ago while building a house in Elanora, he began to develop a strong attraction to this area and an appreciation for its potential. Buying lunch in North Narrabeen one day, he noticed a For Let sign in a shop window. He thought, It's now or never.

Joe's Italian Restaurant opened for business on Monday, 22 June 1992 at 1493 Pittwater Road, North Narrabeen.

A novel approach - Just as Sicily is different from the rest of Italy and Catania different other provinces of Sicily, Joe wanted his restaurant to be different from other Italian neighbourhood restaurants. As you see as soon as you walk in, the decor is simple and clean, no checked tablecloths or chianti bottles with candles. The service is down to earth and friendly, not aloof or over the top. Families are welcomed rather than discouraged.

And while we naturally cater to long-established Australian tastes - yes, we make pizzas with pineapple - at the same time we really like to add our own special touches. For instance, we're willing to bet that our Gamberi all' Agilo and Peperonicino is unlike any other Garlic Prawns you ever tried. We're also willing to bet that you'll like ours better than any others.

Narrabeen Tigers'Not long after opening, Joe made what has turned out to be one of his most astute moves. He became a sponsor of the Narrabeen Tigers Junior Rugby Club. Every year he gives free vouchers for pizzas and soft drinks to each player - 222 this past season. Not only did this hasten his acceptance into the local community, it has also brought him an appreciative and growing clientele. Today, some of those players who used to come into our restaurant with their parents now bring their own children in.

Over the past 14 years, these former players, along with all our other regular customers, have seen Joe's Italian Restaurant grow from 16 seats to 90, even expanding to the footpath outside. While part of the reason for our growth has been to accommodate the similarly expanding population of the area, another reason was the comfort of our customers. The former cramped layout meant diners too often would be inconvienced by take-away customers and a noisy door. So when space became available next door, Joe wasted no time in approaching council.

A trip back - In 1995, after living in Australia for 33 years, Joe made his first trip back to Catania to find his roots and visit family. He also wanted to check out local restaurants and pizzerias. One night he enlisted a cousin to take him to a pizza place and she, in turn, enlisted a friend to do the driving. Her friend's name was Rosa Lombardo. That was then. For the past 10 years it has been Rosa Mauceri. (Just like the Rosa in Penne Rosa, an original recipe by Joe that turned out so well he named it after his new wife.) Although Rosa didn't do much cooking in Sicily, she has readily taken to the restaurant business here. In particular, she excels at pasta dishes.

By the way, besides returning with a new bride, Joe also came back to Australia with the firm belief that we make better pizzas here.

Trinacria Three-legged lady - If you've wondered about our logo, it's a stylised representation of Sicily's official symbol, the Trinacria. There is some debate about the origins of the symbol, but according to the World Encyclopedia of Flags, "The triskelion (from the Greek 'three-legged') is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind. The earliest representations of it were found in prehistoric rock carvings in northern Italy. It also appears on Greek vases and coins from the 6th and 8th centuries B.C. and was revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples."

The focal point of the Sicilian version is the head of Medusa. The grain adorning her is supposed to represent the fertility of the island and the three legs the extreme points of Sicily, i.e., Capo Pallor in the province of Messina, Capo Passer near Siracusa and Capo Lille west of Marsala in Trapani.

We'd rather think that the extra leg is to help her get to her favourite Italian restaurant just that much quicker.