Fine Italian fare stars at Munster's Cafe Borgia

2014-06-12T01:00:00Z 2014-06-12T16:43:43Z Fine Italian fare stars at Munster's Cafe BorgiaEloise Marie Valadez Eloise.Valadez@nwi.com nwitimes.com
June 12, 2014 1:00 am  • 

Mike and Karen Jesso have been offering creative Italian recipes to dining fans for nearly three decades.

As owners of the popular Cafe Borgia in Munster, the husband-and-wife team are happy to continue to serve the community and food fans from Northwest Indiana, Illinois and elsewhere.

"We opened in Munster in 2007," said Karen Jesso, adding they long had customers from Northwest Indiana who frequented their previous Cafe Borgia restaurant when it was located on Torrence Avenue in Lansing.

"We want to continue bringing authentic Italian food made to order and at great value to customers," Jesso said.

The Lansing Cafe Borgia debuted in 1986 and attracted many food fans through the years. It was a small eatery and since reservations weren't taken, diners had to wait awhile for a table and many did. Fans of the cafe ran the gamut from community residents to chefs, area artists, politicians and others.

This writer's first visit to the now closed Lansing eatery was with Carolyn and Gerry Buster, owners of the famed The Cottage Restaurant, which had been located on Torrence Avenue in Calumet City. (The late Carolyn Buster was considered one of the first well-known  chefs in the Chicago area).

"Carolyn and Gerry Buster introduced a lot of people to our cafe," Jesso said.

The Munster eatery is a much larger space than the Lansing restaurant as Jesso said the main dining room seats 120 while one of the private rooms seats 40 and the other party room seats 30. Cafe Borgia's bar area can fit about 20 people.

Cafe Borgia's decor, Jesso's brainchild, was "a lot of fun" to design, she said. Murals adorn the walls while lights designed by Crete artist Charles Lotton hang from the ceiling. The open kitchen is also a focal point.

"Charles Lotton has been a customer since we opened," Jesso said, adding it's an honor to have his work displayed in the restaurant. (Lotton's work is also in the Smithsonian).

"We have the largest collection of his lights (housed in one place) in the world," she said.

According to Jesso, many items in the restaurant come from Italy, including the glass tiles on the walls.

During a recent visit to Cafe Borgia for lunch, the eatery was buzzing with a local work crowd enjoying diverse dishes. We were seated in the center of the room close to the open kitchen which also allowed us to enjoy the aromas of the recipes being prepared.

We began our meal with stuffed mushrooms ($7), which were filled with crumbled sausage, rice and Parmesan. The flavor of the stuffing as well as the marinara sauce covering the mushrooms received high marks at our table.

Our entrees were Fettuccine Alfredo ($14) and Stuffed Eggplant ($14), both excellent choices. The eggplant was served with a tomato cream sauce and escarole on the side. Chicken was added to the Alfredo dish which made it an even heartier offering.

Jesso said husband Mike, whose skills as a chef have been praised through the years, is still the executive chef at Cafe Borgia and has been at the helm of the kitchen since the Lansing days.

"He finished third in the nation at McCormick Place (during a major culinary competition) even before there was an 'Iron Chef,'" she said, about her husband's expertise in the kitchen. Chef Jesso also has a garden on the premises of the cafe. He picks vegetables and herbs from the garden to use in his dishes.

If you're looking for a pleasant restaurant experience and flavorful culinary options, stop in at Cafe Borgia. You'll soon find yourself planning a return trip.

FYI: Cafe Borgia is located at 10018 Calumet Ave., Munster. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. For more information, call (219) 9322-8889 or visit cafeborgia.com

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