Mike Laurenza, 40, from Northfield, is known for mincing garlic and onions. He doesn't mince words.
"I am a chef," Laurenza says. "I don't want to be standard just like everybody else, I have to do something different."
And what that means to someone who doesn't work in a professional kitchen is that along with the many kitchen jobs he performs as chef, Laurenza is always searching for something new to put on his latest menu.
Laurenza is the chef at Carluccio's Coal Fired Pizza in Northfield. Anyone who has passed by the place, must have noticed the full parking lot every day around lunch and dinner time.
Laurenza's food is the reason for the crowds. So why make changes to a good thing?
It's that challenge of always coming up with something new that has prompted Carluccio's to begin adding more choices to the already popular menu, in the form of more specials each and every day and as family-style meals to take home.
At Carluccio's, the daily specials menu seems as large as the regular menu at most other restaurants.
A typical specials menu at Carluccio's might start out with four different soups, $4 each. Escarole and white bean, butternut squash, chicken and rice and potato soup with pesto were the four possibilities on one recent evening.
A new edition to the coal-fired pizza repertoire is the truffolina ($11), made with portobella mushrooms, goat cheese, arugula, truffle oil, fresh mozzarella and shaved parmigiano.
Appetizers ($8) may include a stuffed portobella mushroom with crabmeat, mozzarella, cheddar cheese and ricotta; mussels marinara, served red or white; fried calamari and vegetables served with a marinara sauce; and a Caprese salad with vine-ripened tomato, hand-made mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma and roasted peppers.
The pasta special lasagna della Nonna ($10) is a meat and ricotta lasagna served with a meatball. Meatloaf ($13) made with beef, is slowly baked, homemade and served with mashed potatoes and asparagus.
Entrees, at $18 each, include a stuffed salmon with crabmeat in a Rosa sauce; grouper, pan-seared with a shrimp, lemon butter and white wine sauce over vegetable risotto; and veal medallions or chicken paillards Sorrentina, topped with eggplant Francese, mozzarella and tomato sauce, then baked.
Sunday gravy ($15) is composed of pasta, salad and bread served with veal braciole, meatballs and Italian sausage.
Laurenza also has instituted a menu of family-style meals to take home that includes garden salad, garlic bread and pasta, along with a long list of entree choices.
Offerings include baked ziti ($25), gnocchi al forno ($35), eggplant parmigiana ($25), chicken or veal picatta, marsala, Francese or parmigiana ($35/$50), shrimp scampi ($55), salmon Florentine with shrimp ($65) and flounder Francese ($65). Family-style meals feed four to six people.
With so much going on in the completely renovated building that offers tables, a counter and takeout, owner Carlo Citera, 44, of Margate, wishes he had 6,000 square feet of space instead of the 1,500-square-foot restaurant.
With little room to prep and less room to store food, everything at Carluccio's is freshly made.
As Laurenza says, "When you order something, everything is made at the moment."
That means the kitchen makes maybe 20 orders of each special, and when they are over, they are over.
Laurenza adds. "Carluccio's is not a pizzeria and not a restaurant, but a hybrid of the two."