Boston Restaurants: Chef/owner Tina Santoro Asmar is putting the finishing touches on a lemon layer cake that she calls "a test cake," a demo for a client that she wants to perfect. But for now her sample product will be consumed by her employees and friends to achieve that level of perfection Asmar has become so well known for.
When you step inside her tiny restaurant known as Santoro's Sicilian Trattoria that churns out up to 150 sandwiches daily, you will immediately feel like you just walked into her own personal kitchen. It is here (and at her home) that Asmar grows her own tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano and sage. The former owner of a beauty salon in Wellesley with no formal culinary training, Asmar now cranks out 20-pound batches of lasagna and arancini the size of softballs.
"I don't know how to make anything small," Asmar joked.
The restaurant features home cooked meals cooked while you wait. People who come here know this is not your ordinary sandwich shop. All breads are cooked to order so it may take up to 30 minutes during peak times for a sandwich.
"This is not fast food," Asmar said. "The oven is always going during lunch."
One look at the menu and you will have just met her family - each of her sandwiches is named after relatives with specialties like the Nona Carmela, Grayson, Bianca and Diana. The Agostino just might be her signature sandwich made with Boar's Head imported parma prosciutto, mortadella, Genoa salami, sweet cappicola, provolone, roasted red peppers, onions, vine ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.
Asmar has been serving up her homemade Italian favorites at birthday parties, holiday functions, funerals and all sorts of get-togethers since she opened the hidden location on Bridge Street (Route 109) in Dedham in 2008.
"I love the adrenaline rush of last minute orders because I take the stress away from other people," she said. "I love what I do. They say if you love what you do for work, you will never work a day in your life. That's exactly how I feel."
Repeat customers also have a lot to do with Asmar's warm personality, calling everyone "honey" and "doll" who walks through the door as well as her friendly family style environment.
"I think people come back because they enjoy seeing it all happen in front of them and know that all of the ingredients are fresh so they don't mind waiting," she said.
The stuffed shells, lasagna, manicotti, chicken parmigiana, and baseball sized meatballs are all available in single servings or by the tray. For those looking for a lighter lunch, try one of the "healthy choice" selections that include a grilled chicken Caesar and tuna salad. Desserts here should not be missed though, especially the mile high caramel pecan cake, lemon cookies, bananas foster, and biscotti, but the real gem is hidden in the heavenly sweet peanut butter and fluff layer cake, which she admittedly whipped up for someone after having no other ingredients in her house.
With a motto like "chi mangia bene, vive bene," translated as "who eats well, lives well," Santoro's will certainly live forever.
Santoro's Sicilian Trattoria is located at 211 Bridge Street, Dedham, MA 02026. For more information, call (781) 329-3354 or visit them online at www.santorosdeli.com.