Sheepshead Bay trattoria Michael's of Brooklyn has released a line of authentic Italian sauces for retail sale. The sauces make a strong argument that store-bought sauce doesn't all have to be Progresso or Ragu, mass-produced anonymously and shipped out by the hundreds of thousands all over the world.
Michael's sticks to it's firmly-established roots, bringing the traditions that define their restaurant to their bottled sauces. Half a century ago, Michael's of Brooklyn was a four-table pizzeria that had just been opened by Michael Cacace, an immigrant fisherman from Puglia. Using skills he'd learned through apprenticeships and life experience, Cacace built his namesake restaurant from the ground up. Today, Michael's of Brooklyn is an expansive eatery and bakery, offering a traditional fine dining take on Southern Italian cuisine. Importantly, it's very much still in the Cacace family: John and Fred Cacace, two of Michael's sons, run the kitchen and the front of the house, respectively.
Michael's became such a popular culinary landmark that people eventually wanted to take their food home. In true neighborhood-establishment style, this started organically: regular customers would request small batches of extra food, and would take them home. However, the demand eventually became sufficient enough to merit a wholesale wing of the restaurant.
Though wholesale often leads to outsourcing and a change in product and process, Michael's of Brooklyn does things differently. Even though wholesale products are in a sealed jar rather than a doggy bag, the sauces are identical to the sauces served at the restaurant. All wholesale products are made and bottled on-site, using the same methods and ingredients that the original Michael Cacace used fifty years ago. His recipe calls for exclusively fresh ingredients, prepared by hand every day, with absolutely no additives or preservatives of any kind. This is ensured by keeping the wholesale operation, like the rest of Michael's of Brooklyn, in the family: it's managed by Michael Cacace, Jr.
In the sauce-making annex at Michael's (which is located in the basement directly below the restaurant), tradition is strictly observed. First, a highly trained, specialized staff loads a number of heavy-duty 80-gallon kettles with crushed plum tomatoes imported from Italy. Any additional ingredients (depending on the sauce) are added afterward, and the sauce is cooked at 215 degrees--a temperature calculated painstakingly to counter the natural acidity of the tomatoes.
Four flavors of sauce have already been available for sale: Marinara, which sets the standard (made with roasted garlic, olive oil, tomato, basil, and oregano), Tomato Basil, Filetto di Pomodoro (with prosciutto and onions), Puttanesca (featuring fresh green and black olives, anchovies, capers, and parsley), Arrabbiata (the spicy sauce, which highlights hot peppers). A sixth sauce, Home Style Gravy, has recently been added to the line-up. It's a thicker sauce, made from ground tomatoes and caramelized onions in place of crushed garlic. For vegetarian sauce fans, the Home Style Gravy is meat-free, despite the name.