La Famiglia is a taste of homemade Italian

August 9, 2018
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Ramon Urbaez and Ralph Hagy make fresh mozzarella at La Famiglia in Huntington.

“It’s the nature of Italians to live life with a positive tone and to celebrate the invitations that come along in life. Italian food is so conducive to all of that.” — Lidia Bastianich

“Hi Mrs. Hill! We’ve got seats for you!” the young lady exclaims as we pass her. Her name is Caroline, and she is one of the many staff members at La Famiglia, 1327 6th Ave. in Huntington, who makes John, my husband, and me feel right at home. Caroline’s face glistens in the evening sun as she rushes about taking care of the outside patio customers.

Entering through the front door, John and I are further greeted by Courtney and Selena, the latter of whom also happens to be one of my former kindergarten students from what seems like a lifetime ago.

“Hi guys! How are you?” greets Selena.

“I’m going to check right now and see if the guys have gluten-free pasta in the back for you Mrs. Hill,” adds Courtney as she hustles away and disappears into the kitchen area.

“Hi, Mrs. Hill. How’s Maddie? I feel like I haven’t seen her in forever!” greets and asks another former, but much more recent, student named Sophie.

“Hi guys, good to see you!” gently and softly adds one of John’s former students, Hayley. “Hey! Hi again!” chimes in Sam, a fairly new waitress with a youthful grin.

As the evening sun made its westward descent casting a warm, ripened-peachhued glow overhead during this recent visit, John and I enjoyed talking with former and current students and/or their parents, fellow staff and/or church members, and even the Rev. Monsignor Dean Borgmeyer, our parish pastor, before, during, and after our scrumptious dinner. Additionally, owner Ralph Hagy, and his sons, Joe and Jordan, each spent time not only talking with us, but also making their rounds throughout the restaurant conversing with all of their customers. This is one of the reasons why dining at La Famiglia has the feel of eating at home with extended family and friends; and, it is that very atmosphere, as well as madefrom-scratch food, that keeps “mi famiglia,” my family, returning again and again.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that La Famiglia is located directly across from the school in which John and I teach as well as our home church, St. Joseph Catholic School and St. Joseph Catholic Church, respectively. Since John and I tend to work late on Friday evenings, it’s not unusual for us to walk directly from school to the restaurant where we know our end-of-the-workweek fatigue will be assuaged with made-fromscratch food — including the pasta, sauce, pizza, and yes, cheese, as well as gregarious conversation and a wide variety of appealing “adult beverages,” including house crafted specials, such as limoncello and figcello to name a few.

While I was already well aware of how very much my family enjoys dining at La Famiglia, I fell even more in love with it after experiencing a sneak-peak behind the scenes. Ralph, Ramon, and staff invited me to not only take pictures of their wood-fired oven and kitchen area as the staff recovered from a weekday lunch rush and prepared for the dinner

crowd, but also to observe the cheese-making process. I was pumped to say the least!

Arriving around 3:30 one afternoon, I found the dining area abandoned, except for one lone salad and water sitting on the bar. (Later, I would learn it was Ralph’s lunch, which he did not have time to eat). As I walked toward the kitchen, I could hear Ralph talking. Rounding the corner, I watched as Ralph deftly navigated between a call on a cell phone and a call on the restaurant phone. I could tell from the conversations that both calls were regarding acquiring fresh ingredients for the restaurant’s current menu and upcoming weekend specials.

Across from him was a box chock full of fresh produce that Ralph later explained to me had just arrived from a nearby West Virginia farmbased business. In return, Ralph was sending the farm business a few products from his restaurant to use and sell. Ralph explained that sometimes the barter system was still the best way for local businesses to help one another.

Meanwhile, as Ralph talked, water was being heated over a stove in an enormous pot, seemingly big enough to bathe a large dog, to a precise temperature in order to make fresh cheese. Nearby was a large, rectangular, deep pan filled with salted curds ready to be made into fresh mozzarella cheese. Ralph explained that the staff goes through the cheese making process nearly every business day! The water must be heated between 160-180 degrees in order to create the best consistency and bring out the most flavor. Once Ramon stated the temperature was correct, both men went to work.

Gloves were donned, due to the high temperature of the water, curds were dropped in the water, and Ramon began to work his magic on the curds using a large wooden paddle that looked very much like a paddle used to maneuver a canoe. Ralph was at the ready holding the pot steady. It was hot work that Ramon said felt, “really good to do in the winter, but not so much in the summer.”

Once the correct consistency had been reached, both men plunged their gloved hands into the hot water in order to knead and form fresh, warm mozzarella balls between the size of a baseball and softball. Each of these freshly formed mounds was then placed on a large metal baking sheet to cool.

Ralph was kind enough to allow me to taste a bit of the warm, ooey-gooeyness. Wow! Did my taste buds ever light up and dance a mambo in my mouth. I tried to imagine, as Ralph suggested, how good the warm cheese would taste if drizzled with a bit of quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil served up with fresh garden basil and tomatoes. Oh my! No wonder their Fresh Caprese Platter and Margherita pizzas were two of their biggest sellers in the summer!

Watching the intense focus that went into their cheese making, I could only imagine the attention to detail that goes into each of their madefrom-scratch menu items and weekly specials. In fact, Ralph further explained to me that they make all of their pasta and pizza dough fresh from flour imported from Italy. Additionally, I was privy to see the first-class, organic meats and tomato products they purchase from an Italian wholesaler. Clearly the restaurant does not skimp on quality when it comes to the ingredients for their menu items. No wonder my family feels like we are sitting down to a homemade meal when we go to La Famiglia, because we are!

Whether you are dining in or taking out, the next time you want a home cooked, family meal that is truly made-from-scratch from fresh whole food ingredients, but don’t have the time or energy to cook, give La Famiglia a try. From hand-cut steaks to fall-off the-bone, slow-cooked ribs; from fresh, tasty salads and soups to made-fromscratch pasta and pizza; from grilled-to-perfection fish to savory appetizers, including their family recipe for hand rolled meatballs; and from one-of-a-kind gelatos to overstuffed cannolis, and-oh-somuch more, you are sure to walk away from La Famiglia feeling like a well-fed part of their family!

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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