2016-03-01 / Dishing

In the Cucina with La Famiglia

Anne Quinn Corr

Visiting DelGrosso’s Amusement Park off-season is very different from visiting in the summer when the rides are in full swing and hordes of young thrill seekers are scampering over the wide pathways. From November until May, there is a standstill while the park is in re-charge mode. In the dead of winter the amusement rides are shut down, with carriages atilt under pavilions, wrapped in plastic, and picnic tables stacked vertically, at rest.

But not everything is quiet at the Tipton destination on Old Route 220. In the center of the park, in Murf’s Kitchen, the lights are on and somebody’s home. The large, bright commercial kitchen functions like a winter cluster of bees; the chef and his team are busy testing recipes, working on menus, and feeding the core colony that buzzes all year long, keeping the hive alive.

Head Chef Dave Taddei is starting his fifth season at DelGrosso’s. Taddei cooked his way up the food chain the time-honored way, by working in his grandfather’s Altoona restaurant, The Allegro, which opened in 1978. His grandparents, Dan and Gloria Taddei, founded the fine-dining establishment with Gloria’s father, Chef Philip Delloso, who had worked at the legendary Erculiani’s Restaurant in Gallitzin and DelGrosso’s white-tablecloth establishment across the road from the amusement park that was in operation during the 1970s.

The park’s menu development team comprises four people, but the DelGrosso family has ultimate veto power over what makes the cut. Mike Miduri is the director of food service and Nichole Grove is his assistant, both hired last year to help the park with the broader food scope that is on the horizon. Chef Taddei is assisted by Meghan Deininger, a Penn State HRIM graduate who went on to culinary school in Pittsburgh and then worked as a sous chef at Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon. For Deininger, the job at DelGrosso’s is a homecoming. She grew up nearby and worked at the park while in high school.

During a lunchtime tasting on a cold January day, the team, along with family members Joe DelGrosso and Carl Crider Jr., assembled for a taste test of a grilled chicken sandwich on a toasted ciabatta bun, with crisp lettuce and a juicy slice of tomato. Check. Winner. Everyone loved it. There was more discussion over the pasta sampling. Two plates of shell pasta with Alfredo sauce were on the stainless steel table in the big kitchen. One was made with cream and one with low-fat milk. For the record, both were delicious, but the tasters debated the mouthfeel of the two samples and noticed the slight separation of sauce from pasta in the low-fat alternative. Funny comments about whether or not someone who is at an amusement park is concerned about choosing a healthier entree ensued. Full fat won.

This off-season was particularly busy for the menu development team because there will be four new food stands inside the expanded water park complex Laguna Splash. Pasta Fresca will feature made-to-order pasta dishes created in front of hungry patrons by the sous chef on duty. Pizza Famosa is the pizza and stromboli stand that will include a selection of flatbreads. Bistecca Cheesesteaks and More will offer a Philly-style cheesesteak and also a DelGrosso signature pizza-steak. At the Americana Grille, guests can choose the grilled chicken sandwich that won the seal of approval as well as a burger made with Angus beef and a jumbo hot dog. Additional offerings will include fresh-cut fries, whiskey-battered onion rings and a pulled pork sandwich.

DelGrosso’s Amusement Park has long been a food destination, and the water park upgrade will make it even more appealing for families to come out for the day or evening. While admission to the park is free, admission to the water park requires a purchased Fun Pass, even for adults who may not be going into the water, though access to several of the new food stands will not require a pass. The schedule for the 2016 Spaghetti Wednesday that takes place in an outdoor pavilion called Shed #2 is already posted and includes various pasta features like Fettucini Alfredo with Grilled Chicken and Gnocchi with Meatballs as well as the popular Homemade Lasagna once a month throughout the summer. The weekly pasta feature is $8 and includes a fountain beverage.

Deininger is eager to see the new food options up and running and to see the progression of the company that helped to shape her own culinary path. Was it her dream to someday work at the park? Not exactly.

“It has changed so much since I worked here in high school more than 10 years ago. I didn’t really see it as an option to use the skills that I learned in college and at culinary school. But things have changed here, and we now have the food service director and assistant. DelGrosso’s is going in a new direction, higher up, more chef-driven, and we will need more people experienced in culinary.”

And if those people grew up near the park and worked there in their youth, they are already part of the family. •SCM

Eggplant “Oreos”

Makes 6 servings, one filled “Oreo” for each serving. This recipe can be made with your favorite DelGrosso’s sauce — I used Aunt Mary Ann’s Sunday Marinara.

One eggplant, about 1½ pounds
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. Italian herb blend (or mixture of oregano, basil, marjoram and parsley)
½ tsp. coarse herb salt
Olive oil spray
2 c. DelGrosso’s Marinara Sauce
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan

For the Ricotta Filling:
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, grated or smooshed
8 oz. ricotta, homemade or store bought
1 egg, beaten
¼ tsp. herb salt
¼ c. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a half sheet pan in the oven while it is preheating. Slice the eggplant into ½- to ¾-inch-thick slices to get 12 slices out of the eggplant. Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the Italian herb blend and salt and stir. When the oven is preheated and the pan is hot, remove it from the oven and lightly spray the surface with olive oil spray. Use a pastry brush to brush one side of the 12 eggplant slices with the herb/salt oil. Place the oiled side onto the sprayed hot pan, filling the pan with all 12 slices. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the herb bowl, mix it with the pastry brush, and lightly brush the tops of the eggplant slices. Cook for 25 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and flip the eggplant slices. Cook for another 20 minutes, flipping them again to make sure they get slightly browned on both sides. If you plan to bake the dish right away, reduce the oven heat to 350°F after removing the eggplant.

In a casserole dish, spread ½ cup of DelGrosso’s Marinara on the bottom and place the 6 largest eggplant rounds on the sauce. Combine ingredients to make ricotta filling and top the eggplant, about 2 ounces per slice, and place the remaining eggplant rounds on top. Put 2 tablespoons of sauce on each “Oreo” and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese. Return to 350°F oven and heat through, about 20-30 minutes.

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