Nick Panagos grew up in restaurants. He started out washing dishes at his dad’s restaurants around Providence, Rhode Island, spent some time cooking in Greece, and then attended Le Cordon Bleu Boston, whose famous alums include Julia Childs. His first job out of culinary school was at acclaimed chef Jamie Mammano’s Sorellina in Boston. Last year, his journey, which included stops at Alden and Harlow and Cinquecento, brought him full circle—helming the kitchen at Mammano’s L’Andana in Burlington as it enters its second decade. Northshore chatted with the chef about perfect steak, Thanksgiving dinner service, and his favorite dish.
NS: What is your favorite part of working at L’Andana?
NP: Our garden. It runs the length of the building on the side and into the parking lot—this year is the biggest it’s ever been. There are not many restaurants where you can just walk outside the door and pick garnishes and herbs…cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes and mint and four kinds of basil…. It’s awesome.
L’Andana also has beehives on the roof. How is that going?
We just did a honey harvest on Sunday. I think our Rooftop Honey Gelato is one of the best items on our menu. Our pastry chef [Suzanne Giaquinto] makes a honeycomb from honey baked with sugar and baking soda…it’s like kind of like crispy honey on the bottom of the plate. Then she makes a fresh honey gelato, which is insane, and tops it with a honey tuile garnish. It’s really cool—honey three ways.
What is the most complicated dish on the menu, in terms of execution?
Probably our hamachi crudo, served with pomegranate gremolata. We get fresh pomegranates and take out the seeds, then toss them with parsley, shallot, lime juice, and lime zest. Then we take Granny Smith apples and we cut them into brunoise—a perfect dice of very small squares—marinate that in lime juice and lime zest. We get whole sides of hamachi, and slice it super-thin fresh, then top with the gremolata, the apple, and very, very thinly sliced jalapeno. I try to change the hamachi every season, so we do corn and tomato in the summer, and I figured for the fall we can do apple and pomegranates.
What dishes on the menu can never change?
I was basically told that I have creative freedom over pretty much everything except for the hand-cut tuna tartare; you will probably never see that change. Also the Caesar salad—I don’t think there’s any reason to change it. The dressing is awesome. Also, the wood-grilled swordfish has been on the menu since day one, with wood-roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes, like a pepperonata. That’s one of the owner’s favorite dishes.
What is your favorite dish at L’Andana?
Our Cornish game hen is probably one of my favorites. When people see chicken on a restaurant menu, they think it’s just chicken, but ours is special. We get these really nice Cornish game hens and we debone them. And then we marinate them in olive oil, onions, parsley, lemon, and we grill them skin side down on our wood grill so it gets this really crispy, smoky flavor. We serve them over a warm spinach salad with some crispy roasted potatoes. It’s really nice. It looks really pretty.
What’s your favorite steak on the menu?
The 45-day dry-aged prime ribeye. We’re getting it delivered once a week from LaFrieda in New York. They are one of the most famous meat providers in the country, and sell to some of the best steak houses in New York. I think we’re pretty lucky to be getting meat from them. We get it because they deliver to our sister restaurants in Boston. We grill it bone-in and it’s 18 ounces for $69. If people are looking to splurge, that’s the way to do it.
Eighteen ounces is a lot of meat! Do people finish it?
At that price, they are going to figure a way to do it. But if they don’t, we have large to-go containers that can fit the bone and everything.
How should it be cooked?
Rare or medium rare with extra char. For me, there’s no other way to do it. Extra char is where you get the real flavor—we put it over the hottest part of our wood grill. A lot of people are afraid of char; they think it’s burnt, [but] it’s from the wood you get the flavor.
What’s L’Andana doing for Thanksgiving?
We always strive to make the turkey better than it was the year before, so we’re starting to experiment with that. We did a three-course menu last year and will be doing the same. I would like to serve a squash soup. We will probably do some kind of autumnal salmon dish similar to something we have on the menu right now that’s glazed in apple cider as a starter served over a wheat berry risotto with Brussels sprouts and squash and shitake mushrooms. It’s really good.
How about the sides?
Yeah, the sides are always the best part. We’ll do Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, asparagus, and we make a killer stuffing. And then for dessert, my pastry chef makes a pretty awesome pecan tart and an apple crostata, which is like our version of an apple pie. Individual size on both, so everyone can order their own thing, then pass it around and share.
What are the challenges to your Thanksgiving menu?
The volume is pretty crazy. Last year we went through 300 pounds of turkey. It was my first Thanksgiving [at the restaurant] and everybody was warning me. They weren’t joking. We’re going to serve 500 people between
2 p.m. and 6 p.m.