The earthy, herbaceous smells of garlic and oregano, comingled with the bright, refreshing zest of lemon, and the hearty aroma of sizzling meat, emanated from the open kitchen, as frantically busy line cooks handed generous, cleanly arranged plates of pasta and steak over the serving line.
At Ciao Chow Restaurant, in downtown New Albany, Mike Carroll worked the dining room like a man hosting a banquet in his own home. Dressed in a smart, grey-blue suit, and a yellow tie, he smiled warmly as he greeted Ryan and Jordan Murray, and their young daughter, Mary Eason.
“Wonderful to see you folks this evening. Welcome,” Carroll said, in a kind, sincere voice.
Every seat in the warmly-lit dining room was filled. Diners were dressed casually but neatly, and the pleasing, almost hypnotic clink of silverware on plates filled the air, along with the blended, symphonic hum of happy conversations. Ceiling fans that once hung in the poker room of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, perhaps over Old Blue Eyes and his Rat Pack themselves, a gift from local hardware man Joel Bennett, turned slowly overhead.
“I like to think that customer-service is my forte,” said Carroll, who, along with his spouse, Tim Satterfield, also the executive chef, opened the restaurant, at 100 West Bankhead St., nearly two years ago, relocating it from Carroll’s hometown of Ashland.
“I serve as maître d, and I like talking with customers and making people, especially families – and we love children here - feel at home,” said Carroll, as he walked among the tables, smiling and occasionally patting regular customers on the shoulder. “Tim has the culinary pedigree and talent, so we certainly enjoy our respective roles.”
Carroll grew up in a restaurant family. His late father, Lee, along with his mother, Betty, first owned Carroll’s Sweet Shop and later Carroll’s County Kitchen in the small town. He leaned the ins-and-outs of the business from his folks, Carroll said, and, just as importantly, the value of providing good service, good food, and treating people well.
“Watching my parents’ earnest, hardworking way of doing things, and how they made a success of their restaurants, made quite an impression on me,” said Carroll.
Carroll’s mother is a beloved member of the kitchen staff at Ciao Chow, and makes many of the deserts, including the decadent hot-fudge cakes.
In the kitchen, Satterfield had five saute’ pans working over the blue, gas flames. He moved quickly, slightly shaking the contents of some while deftly flipping his wrist and tossing the food in others.
“I work at my own pace, which is pretty fast, so my staff just has to keep up,” said Satterfield. “It’s not unusual for us to make 200 entrees in about four hours.”
Sous Chef Sharon Shaw moved nimbly around the kitchen, working in perfect rhythm with Satterfield, while cooks Scottie Vanzant and Ryan Leopard helped build dishes, and Madeline Johnson garnished and finished the plates for presentation.
Satterfield’s father, a native of Sicily, owned several Italian bakeries in Detroit. His mother is from Kentucky, and raised him to appreciate Southern fare, like fried chicken and cornbread. The combination of those two, hearty, culinary styles strongly influenced his approach to cooking, Satterfield said.
“In both Italian and Southern cultures, so much revolves around food,” said Satterfield, who graduated from culinary school in Detroit, and gained fire-tested experience in some popular, New Jersey restaurants. “It’s so closely tied-in with the love of family and enjoying life,” he said.
In addition to Italian staples, like lasagna, fresh, homemade meatballs, and chicken parmesan, Ciao Chow also serves premium steaks and pork chops. Satterfield also likes to infuse the menu with special selections, like tortellini with crab in cream sauce, and pasta puttanesca.
“Puttanesca is a very special dish in Italy,” said Satterfield. “It’s vegetarian, and has a nice heat. I make it with Kalamata olives, fresh garlic, tomatoes, capers, marinara, and olive oil.”
Shrimp scampi is another popular menu item.
“My version is not as garlicy as some people might be used to,” said Satterfield. “I make it a little soupy, so that the pasta doesn’t dry out. It has a nice, buttery sauce, with tomato, parsley, and lemon.”
Satterfield occasionally prepares one of his own, childhood favorites, honoring his mother’s Southern influence – salmon cakes.
At the height of the Saturday dinner rush, Randy and Sonya Huffman of New Albany waited eagerly to be seated.
“The atmosphere is nice but casual, the food is delicious and the service is great,” Anne said. Carroll leaned in and told the couple their table would be ready in minutes.
“One of the biggest compliments we get, something that we really pat ourselves on the back about, is our remarkable service staff,” Carroll said, as he walked by Joshua Guest and his family, asking if everything was good.
“New Albany is a progressive town, and has a certain friendliness that has made us feel very welcome and glad we came here,” said Carroll. “Tonight, we had a wonderfully diverse crowd. There were whites, African-Americans, Asians, a few same-sex couples, and everybody was welcome and enjoyed themselves. New Albany has opened its arms to us, and we’re very happy to be part of the life of the city.”
Ciao Chow Restaurant is open Thurs-Sat., 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Also visit their Facebook page.