Signature Dish: Sampler a trio of favorites at Chap’s Elba Diner

Sep 8, 2015

ELBA — The key to any Italian cuisine is the sauce. The better the sauce, the better the food. The better the food, the more popular the restaurant.

Sandra Chappius knows that all too well. That’s why she decided last year to change the formula for the red sauce at Chap’s Elba Diner, 5 South Main St., the restaurant she owns with her husband, Doug.

Chappius decided to have a taste test with a few people from Elba. She prepared her mother’s recipe, which she has been cooking for decades, and asked two of her cooks to make theirs.

“They all picked my mother’s sauce,” said Chappius. “All of them, at the same time. It became something special to me. That’s how we came up with the sauce itself.”

That sauce is now used on all of the eatery’s Italian menu items and plays a key role in the restaurant’s signature dish, the Italian Sampler. In that dish, the sauce covers a trio of Italian favorites: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmigiana, and eggplant parmigiana.

Chappius learned how to make all of the items from her mother, Costanza DeMartino. While Chappius and her sister were born in Brazil, the family moved to the United States when they were young. And since the parents had to work to support the family, the girls split responsibilities in the kitchen.

“I took the cooking, and my sister took the baking,” she said.

While each of the components in the sampler has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2011, the dish is a relatively new item.

“We decided to take what we do

best and put them together as a sampler,” Chappius explained. “Our portions, as our customers say here, are larger than they should be. But most of our portions are like that. We just took everything that a customer likes and put it together on one plate.”

To put it simply, the sampler is Italian comfort food.

The sauce, which is rich and thick, is a staple from Rome, where Chappius’s parents were born and she herself lived for a few years.

“They’re like dialects,” Chappius said in talking about the difference between sauces found in northern and southern Italy. “We’re from Rome. We like a thicker sauce.”

The meatball, chicken and eggplant on the sampler are all homemade, a point of pride for the owners. The meatballs, each about the size of a racquetball, are hand-rolled three times a week from ground beef. The chicken is a filleted breast that is pounded flat and fried to add a nice crisp on the outside. The same goes for the eggplant, which is cut about half an inch thick. The chicken and eggplant both get topped with mozzarella cheese, which balances the parmesan cheese that is included in the bread crumb mixture used in each of the items.

“It’s been a process,” Chappius said of creating the dish. “If people like things, I’ll put them together.”

The restaurant will serve 15-20 samplers a week, most of them on Thursday, which has been re-named Italian Night at Chap’s.

The Italian Sampler sells for $12.99.

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by Matt Kruger (1/23/2016)
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