It’s not so unusual for a landmark Italian restaurant to bottle their famous sauce and sell it to the public. But what sets Michaels of Brooklyn apart is that they cook their sauce entirely on premises in their Sheepshead Bay restaurant—from scratch, using only fresh ingredients that are prepped, sautéed, and blended by hand every day in the restaurant kitchen, with no additives or preservatives of any kind.
Michaels of Brooklyn traditional Italian tomato sauces taste like homemade because they use the same ingredients a talented home cook would use. It’s very simple—imported tomatoes from Italy, fresh herbs and spices, garlic or onion, and olive oil—but the result is an extraordinary range of fresh, delicious sauces in six distinctive flavors—Marinara, Tomato Basil, Filetto di Pomodoro, Puttanesca, Arrabbiata, and the newest flavor, Home Style Gravy.
The family-owned restaurant had modest beginnings almost 50 years ago. Michaels first opened in 1964 as a small pizzeria (just a pizza oven and four tables). The patriarch of the family and the namesake of the restaurant—Michael Cacace—was a fisherman from Puglia. He first learned his new trade aboard a cruise ship and honed his skills by working in restaurants in New York City and Brooklyn. He gradually grew the business from a small pizzeria to a Neapolitan restaurant, then took over more and more space, until Michaels evolved into the significant fine dining Southern Italian restaurant and bakery it is today. The senior Cacace left the restaurant in the very capable hands of his sons, John, who oversees the kitchen and is the chef and Fred, who manages the front of the house and day-to-day operation along with his son Michael, who heads up the wholesale business.
In recent years, the pasta and other sauces that were served in the restaurant were very popular, so popular that patrons asked to take it home with them. At first, they would send regular customers home with a small batch. But the desire for these delectable sauces kept growing. As the demand grew, John suggested it was time to jar it in shelf-stable containers and make it available for wholesale purchase.
The sauce you can buy today in gourmet markets and groceries across the U.S. follows the same recipes that Michael followed—recipes that have been in the family for generations. They soon discovered that the only way they could maintain this quality, style and flavor, was to continue to make it on site, using their own restaurant kitchen.
Downstairs in the restaurant, a dedicated staff cooks the tomato sauce each day. They begin by loading 80-gallon kettles—just like a giant pot—with imported Italian plum tomatoes. The production manager makes the spice mix each day to ensure consistency of flavor. Other ingredients (depending on the variety—garlic, onions, basil, oregano, spices, olives, etc.) are brought from the kitchen and added to the pot. Then it is cooked to 215 degrees F, a temperature that guarantees that the sauce, because of the high natural acidity of tomatoes, is preserved and safe to keep on the shelf unopened for years. Though they add no preservatives, Michaels of Brooklyn sauces will keep indefinitely when sealed, and is approved and certified by Cornell University. However, because of the freshness of the ingredients—it must be refrigerated once opened.
The difference is clear from the moment you open a jar—from the aroma of the fresh herbs, to the large chunks of garlic, to the whole capers and meaty slices of olives in the Puttanesca, to the tender leafs of green basil, contributing to the very distinctive differences in their range of traditional sauces. With just a few simple ingredients and subtle variations, they are suitable for a wide range of dishes, delicious straight out of the jar, for dipping bread, as pasta sauces, served with poultry, fish or seafood, Italian sausage, braciole or chicken cacciatore.
The classic Marinara, made with just garlic, olive oil, tomato, basil and oregano is the perfect sauce for spaghetti, but is also excellent simmered with seafood, or as the basic sauce in your lasagna or parmigiana recipes. In the fresh Tomato and Basil, the simplicity of fresh tomatoes shines through, enlightened by lots of fresh basil, for a light sweet flavor that is ideal with any pasta, even straight out of the jar, or you can add in sautéed eggplant or zucchini. Filetto di Pomodoro combines prosciutto and onions, fresh basil, olive oil and spices—and is especially nice over penne with lots of freshly grated imported age pecorino. Puttanesca is a heady combination, chock full of hand cut green and black olives, anchovies, capers, parsley, basil, spices, that adds passion to any type of pasta. Or try simmered with boneless chicken breasts, served over rice. Arrabbiata is for those who like it hot! Cooked with hot peppers, fresh basil, olive oil, parsley, and spices, it adds zest to pasta and seafood. Home Style Gravy, the most recent sauce to be placed in a jar, has a thicker base, made from ground tomatoes instead of crushed, and sweet caramelized onions instead of roasted garlic, it’s main reason for being is to be served with the braised meats of Sunday Gravy. However, there’s no meat in this sauce, so vegetarians will be pleased by the rich, hearty flavor, too.
Michaels of Brooklyn sauces are distributed nationally and are available in all major stores. It can be found at most supermarkets and grocery stores, as well as specialty gourmet stores such as Gourmet Garage, Whole Foods, Fairway, Eli’s and Grace’s. The sauce is sold in economical 32 oz. jars that are 33% larger than most brands (and generously feed a family of four). These products can also be purchased directly online at http://www.michaelsofbrooklyn.com.
Michaels of Brooklyn retail products are manufactured at 2929 Avenue R, Brooklyn, New York, 11229, 718-998-7851. The sales offices are located at 1000 Route 34, Suite 401, Matawan, NJ 07747, 732.888.5525.
And for a quick and excellent substitute for tomato sauce in recipes, use Michaels. Delicious with chicken legs, green peppers garlic cloves, and onion. Just brown the chicken and onion, pour in the rest, cover and braise for 45 minutes. (We used Puttanesca).
The best purchased pasta sauces we have tested. Walman Report Rating: A Major
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