When Angela McCrovitz was in college, she’d often walk into friend’s pantries or rummage their kitchen cabinets, looking for ingredients to create an impromptu meal.
“There’s always something you can make a meal out of,” said McCrovitz, noting her friends used to tease her about being in the pantry again.
McCrovitz recently returned to Northwest Indiana from Charleston, S.C., where she’d been working as a food stylist and instructor and decided to open a restaurant in Petals, the former flower shop she and her mother had owned in Miller Beach. What better name, she thought, then to call her new place Angela’s Pantry.
“I thought it would be a good description of what we do here,” said McCrovitz as she stood in the front dining room of the adorable and charmingly decorated restaurant with its stylistic French County meets Miller Beach décor. There's an herb and vegetable garden growing along the edges of the front path and around the old-fashioned front porch. “It’s seeing what’s available and making something wonderful out of it.”
Indeed, when it came time to celebrate Julia Child’s 100th birthday a few weeks ago, McCrovitz decided to make her classic boeuf bourguignon, probably one of the great chef’s most iconic dishes only with her own imprint.
“I braised the beef with a little touch of espresso coffee,” she said. “I like to do that — take traditional recipes and just kind of toss them in the air by adding new twists.”
Born in Gary, McCrovitz attended elementary school at St. Michaels Byzantine School and graduated from Ancilla Domini High School, in Donaldson, Ind. From there she went to Purdue before graduating from Indiana University. Since then her career has taken her in many different directions but much of it has been in the food business which is no surprise given her family’s food background.
“My grandmother won the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in 1966,” McCrovitz said. “My grandfather came here from Luca, Italy, and opened up many restaurants. My Aunt Clara had Clara's Kitchen in Gary. My mother has Merrillville Florist and Tea Room.”
Her grandfather Corrado Bianchini — talk about a high-pressure job — cooked for Al Capone.
McCrovitz and her mother opened the Bakers' House in Miller five years ago but then she got a call from Meredith Corporation, the Des Moines, Iowa, based publisher of many popular home and living magazines.
McCrovitz went to work in their photo art studio styling food for publications including Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Fitness Magazine, Diabetic Living and Heart Healthy Living as well on for TV. It was a job that had her working with chef luminaries Scott Peacock, Sandra Lee, BHG Video, Kraft Video, Paula Deen and Smuckers and developing a lasting friendship with cookbook author Natalie Dupree. Besides that, McCrovitz developed recipes for niche publications, including Christmas in America, Holiday Appetizers, Holiday Baking, Better Homes and Gardens Slow Cooker, International Cuisine and Vegetarian Cuisine.
Food styling requires an inordinate ability to pay attention to detail and that surely can be seen at Angela’s Pantry. The colors — deep reds, warm purples, ochres and soft pastels (it really works somehow) create a warm, vibrant ambience. There’s whimsy too as well as bargain-hunting treasures. A length of copper pipe has been hung with copper chains from the ceiling and is now a pot rack displaying a long length of gleaming copper pans. Chairs are mixed and matched as are tables and linens. A $30 blue-green chandelier found in a thrift shop is the centerpiece of the Great Room as the main dining is called. Framed magazine covers styled by McCrovitz line the staircase leading to the second floor, which, though blocked off now, will eventually be opened for loft dining.
Taking the space that was the walk-in cooler for the floral displays, McCrovitz named it Eli’s Room in honor of the homeless man who lived in the basement of the building for years.
“Everything is house made,” said McCrovitz, noting that they don’t use any artificial preservatives, flavorings or canned stock.
The menu is eclectic — where else could you find free-range chicken stuffed with house-made pimento cheese, red bell pepper, spinach, béchamel sauce served with zucchini ribbons and mixed carrots or Chicken Agrodolce, a combination of a traditional French coq au vin and a unique Italian dish. The chicken breasts are simmered in a sauce of honey, balsamic vinegar, Chianti, orange and lemon juice and then topped with pignoli before being slow roasted with pearl onions, carrots, green beans and mushrooms.
For the less hungry, the small plates menu features a diet defying White Truffle Poblano Mac 'n' Cheese and Baked Oysters Rockefeller. The desserts can be light such as the daily sorbet or gelato or killer like the Coconut Crème Crepe Cake with 30 layers of French crepes filled with coconut crème and then topped with Nutella.
The sophistication of the cuisine isn’t reflected in the costs.
“I want the food to be fresh, local and affordable,” McCrovitz said.
“I like the idea of returning to Miller Beach and creating a place for people to get together and enjoy a great meal at a great price.”
2 (3/4-inch-thick, 6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Olive oil for frying
2 tablespoons English, Dijon or yellow mustard
1 package mushrooms (baby portabella or any type of mushroom)
1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
3 cups fresh spinach
8 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 egg yolks beaten to blend (for glaze)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season each salmon fillet lightly with sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Turn salmon over and score the skin to prevent curling and place skin side down on hot pan drizzled with olive oil. Cook for 1-2 minutes until skin is crispy. Remove from heat and brush top of each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the mustard. Place on plate to cool slightly. Chop mushrooms in a food processor until finely diced; they will look wet. Place in hot pan with no butter or oil and heat until moisture and water is released. Roll out the puff pastry dough and cut off 1/2 inch from each one to use for cutouts of fish for garnishing. Spread half of mushrooms in the center of each piece of phyllo dough. Top with half of fresh spinach and sprinkle with half of parmesan cheese. Place salmon in the middle of the mixture. Brush all exposed sides of pastry with egg wash. Fold pastry dough over salmon, roll and seal all edges. Place on a cookie or baking sheet and score slits in the pastry on each side. With extra dough, cut out fish or other shapes and place the cutouts on top of the Salmon Wellington. Brush entire dough with egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes until pastry is a rich, golden brown.
SOURCE: Angela McCrovitz
Espresso Braised Beef
Large onion, cut into wedges
3 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium turnip, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (24-ounce) package refrigerated mashed sweet potatoes, prepared according to package directions
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper (optional)
DIRECTIONS: In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine onion, carrots, and turnips. Top with beef. In a medium bowl, whisk together wine, tomato paste, espresso coffee powder, brown sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper. Pour over all in cooker. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4-1/2 hours. Serve beef mixture over mashed sweet potatoes. If desired, season with additional salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
Makes 6 servings.
SOURCE: Angela McCrovitz