IN THE KITCHEN If chef Mike Fucci looks familiar, you might recognize him from his winning appearance on a cooking-competition show on Food Network or from demonstrations on local television. He has been in the culinary industry for more than 30 years, including many spent catering. More recently, “I thought it was time to go back to brick-and-mortar — it would be a lot of fun seeing different people every day,” he said.
THE LOCALE Fucci opened his eponymous restaurant, Chef Mike’s, in early August in a modest building on Highland Avenue in Needham, located between the Route 128 interchange and the Newton line. “I’ve wanted to be over here for a long time,” said Fucci, who lives in Newton. “It’s a great neighborhood and community.”
The space itself is divided into two: on one side, a counter where orders are placed and stool seating faces the windows; on the other, five tables plus walls adorned with photographs of Fucci posing with food, sports, and local media luminaries. To-go orders are popular, and delivery options are expanding as well.
ON THE MENU Fucci describes his style of cooking as authentic and fast-casual. “Everything is super-fresh. There are no freezers in the building; everything is prepared every day,” he said.
His roots are in Italian cuisine. “Any of the standard Italian fare you can think of will be on my menu at one time or another — delicious sauces and great old-world peasant food brought to the table, as well as only the best cuts of deli meats for the sandwiches we make,” he said, noting that he buys slabs of meat straight from purveyors and cuts and seasons it in-house.
That’s what makes the Italian beef sandwich (aka, the “Martorina,” $11.25) with house-made giardiniera peppers one of his most popular items so far. “It takes about 36 hours to make that, between slow-roasting and slicing [the meat], putting it back in its own juices, and then putting it into a beautiful braided role,” he said.
What else goes into his recipes? “Time, patience, and love and respect for the food,” he said. For example, “there’s no secret to making good meatballs” — although he does recommend pouring some of your favorite wine into the sauce after it has simmered for about six hours (his takes 18 hours). The meatballs, which I tried on a sub ($9.25 small, $10.25 large), were large, hearty, and bathed in that delicious red sauce on a roll smothered in cheese.
Quantities are impressive — we barely made it halfway through the sausage, pepper, and onion sub ($8.50 small, $9.50 large). “People are getting second meals out of me,” Fucci laughed.
Specialty sandwiches included Fucci’s take on the classics, such as a roast pork with broccoli rabe and provolone cheese ($11.25) and the chicken cordon bleu with ham and cheese ($9.75). What’s more, Fucci said that $1 from each specialty sandwich sold goes straight to children supported by the Pedro Martinez Foundation.
For those seeking a plate of food rather than the hands-on portability of a sandwich, there’s chicken piccata ($12.50), chicken marsala ($14), and chicken parmigiana ($10.50) over pasta, among other options. Fucci also prepares lasagna every day and gets creative with specials — consider the fried goat cheese with mango-habanero sauce. “People should come in and expect the classics, but also for there to be something different, maybe something they haven’t had before,” he said.
Fucci continues to cater out of the restaurant as well and will soon roll out items targeted to the colder months, including soups and stuffed peppers — “really good, rustic, hearty food,” he said.
Chef Mike’s, 73 Highland Ave., Needham, 781-675-2949, eatatchefmikes.com.