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On the Road

La Campagna Shares a Special Dish from Puglia, Italy, with Us

Owner Carmella Fragassi serves dishes inspired by her memories of visiting family in Italy.

By Bryan Roof | July 04, 2019

La Campagna has no sign, so it's easy to miss the restaurant if you're not looking for it in the progression of storefronts in the strip mall. Carmella Fragassi tells me that her sign was 3 inches too big for the town's building code, and rather than redo it, she decided to do without. “If you want to find me, you'll find me,” she says.

After 21 years as a narcotics agent, Carmella turned to the restaurant business. Her first restaurant caught fire two years opening. It was a big, demanding operation, and after it burned down she decided that the next venture would be smaller.

During a trip to Puglia, Italy, where she went to visit family and reflect, Carmella decided to change the way she wrote menus. With her new restaurant she would follow the practical Italian model of an ever-changing menu based on seasonality, availability, and economy.

The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone tells me they haven't had something like this since their grandma cooked it.

She reopened La Campagna in a suburban strip mall 25 minutes outside of downtown Cleveland, Ohio. She wasn't looking for this location, and when it came to her it was supposed to be a temporary situation. It's just big enough for 10 tables; you can see into the kitchen from the front door. The peach walls are covered with racks of wine and Italian imports, some of which Carmella uses in the kitchen and all of which are for sale. There's comfort in all the small details.

Carmella's earliest kitchen memories are of cooking with her grandmothers in Puglia, where she's traveled since she was 14 years old. “If you went to their houses, they never kicked you out of the kitchen. They would teach you how to cook.” Now in her own restaurant, she tells me, “The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone tells me they haven't had something like this since their grandma cooked it.”

Carmella's niece waits tables, her brother helps out in the kitchen, and her sister and cousin jump in from time to time. We begin discussing a recipe she calls “veal pocket” a rack of veal ribs stuffed with meatball mix and then roasted. Carmella can't remember the name and suddenly breaks from her train of thought to call across the dining room to a couple finishing their dinner. “Hey, Uncle Ralph! What did Grandma call that veal pocket in Italian?” Ralph pinches his fingers and bounces his hand in the air: “A-STUFFED-A-MEAT!” He laughs out loud.

Since she's been in business for 22 years, I ask Carmella how much longer she plans to cook. “I can't imagine that I'd ever retire.” And then she adds with all sincerity, “I consider [cooking] a great gift that I can share with people.”

Other Dishes Served at La Campagna

La Campagna
La Campagna
La Campagna

Plates in order from left to right: Detail of an order of bufala mozzarella with pistachio cream; a plate of burnt wheat orecchiette with dandelion greens, cannelini beans, and pancetta; and detail of a roasted artichoke stuffed with a meatball mixture.

Try At Home

Serves 6 Eggplant Pecorino

We layer slices of breaded-and-fried eggplant with sauce and cheese to create delicious stacks.

What's your favorite dish from childhood? Let us know in the comments! Summer is here so don't forget to check out our article on how to Make Easy No-Churn Ice Cream with Two Easy Steps.

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