Picking a place for dinner in Miami Lakes usually consists of having to choose between the lesser of two restaurant chain evils. Outback or Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza tonight? And the authentic food search is about to get even tougher. The owners of the area's best family-run eatery, the Sicilian, are selling their 28-year-old establishment.
"Times have changed," proprietor Giuseppe "Joe" Castiglione says about what
brought him to the decision. "You don't have the people that go out to
relax and enjoy a culture anymore."
After leaving his native Sicily in 1956, Castiglione moved to Brooklyn
and then settled in Miami Lakes. He says he wanted the Sicilian to be
known as the neighborhood Italian spot -- and he succeeded. Nearly every
family in town knows Joe as the Miami Lakes
Godfather. He wears his salt-and-pepper hair slicked back and speaks in a
romantic yet stern tone. He's the kind of man you want to hug but would
never mess with.
Years ago, families packed the quaint, eight-table restaurant nightly. They
dined and socialized with the Castigliones for hours. Garlic aromas
lingered. And the music selections kept eaters humming while they
munched on fresh pastas and sipped Chianti.
The owner, along with his
wife Monica and their four children, created a specific ambiance for
customers. They welcomed them into their Sicilian living room and
treated them like Italian cousins. Patrons were local and loyal. "We have never advertised," Castiglione says. "Our advertising is: You try it; if you don't like it, walk out."
Today, pictures of the family and their favorite customers still adorn
the walls. They hang alongside Sicilian flags, maps, and signs. And the
mouth-watering aromas remain. But the hole-in-the-wall's atmosphere now
feels different. The liveliness has faded.
his stained chef's coat and glazed-over blue eyes seems saddened and
tired. His fingernails are encrusted with white flour from 43 years of
knotting dough. Sitting in his empty eatery, he speaks of his changed
city, gesturing with his hard-worked hands for emphasis. "I remember Miami. It was once a happy place... Miami Lakes is cold now."
Castiglione says today's generation doesn't appreciate his type of
business. The Sicilian is a place for a long, relaxing dinner and in-depth
conversation, not curbside service and tweets. The 64-year-old says he
wants to retire from the pressures of keeping up a small restaurant and
give his aching body a rest. But he says he is not looking forward to
his last day on the job. "My mind has always been here," he says. "We've never been free... I am going to be shocked."
The Sicilian owner is asking for $64,000 for his life's work and says
the turnover will likely happen in the next few months. He says he will
pass on everything to the new owner, even his mother's recipes if desired. "When I die, what good is that?" he says. "Why would I take any recipes with me when I can pass them on?"
Castiglione's only regret: abandoning his loyal customers that have become family members. "I made them forget everything when they came in here. I feel bad for them," he says.
The neighborhood Godfather says he learned how to cook from his mother
back in "the old country." His lasagna Giuseppe and baked ziti Ricardo
are incomparable. And the bite-size garlic rolls trump all others.
Short Order just hopes whoever takes it over doesn't turn it into a
Chipotle or something worse. Whatever happens, the Sicilian will not be
the same without the Castigliones. So visit soon and stock up on the
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16786 NW 67th Ave., Miami Lakes