Cibo siblings honor Italian food from childhood

Lots of kids grow up playing restaurant, doling out plastic pizza or even strange combinations of real food to their parents or anyone else who will pretend with them.

But it is a bit unusual when siblings grow up to work in the hospitality business, and decades later, open a restaurant based on their shared childhood food memories — from preparing traditional Italian dishes to the songs that were playing in the family kitchen as they helped cook.

“We had this idea about 10 years ago: ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have people eating the things that we grew up with?'” says Antonella (Mucé) Fernandes.

On April 8, she and her brother, Nick Mucé, opened Cibo on Cove Road in Orleans. Pronounced “chee boh,” and named for the noun meaning food in Italian, the new spot is a marketplace of cooked dishes and Italian groceries familiar to the Mucé kids from their memories.

“We based it on the Autogrills they have in Italy — (they are) like a kitchen and a market in one,” says Fernandes, 53.

Food from their childhood

Besides a business, she shares a birthday with her younger brother.

“Same day, but two years apart,” says Fernandes, the oldest of three siblings and the only one born in Italy before her parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles immigrated with their children. The family started and operated LoCicero’s Italian restaurant in Orleans for decades, she says.

Fresh and fancy dishes including this shrimp salad are sold by the pound at Cibo.

“At 4 years old, I was stirring bechamel and pomodoro sauces in the family kitchen,” Mucé says.

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At Cibo, he is in the kitchen once again with a staff of four, making nearly everything on site, from 100 ciabatta rolls a day to a dozen piatti caldi (hot plates) including arancini (rice balls the size of a fist and $5 each), chicken cutlets ($6 each), panelle (Sicilian chickpea fritters at $8 per pound), meatballs ($2 each), and pasta e fagioli (Tuscan white bean soup at $6 for a 12-ounce bowl). The daily menu also involves 10 kinds of panini, four or five varieties of bread, three to four sauces, and two dozen more mostly Sicilian specialties.

Cibo, a noun meaning food in Italian, sells hot and cold Italian dishes that brother and sister co-owners, Nick Muce and Antonella Fernandes, remember from their childhood cooking adventures.

“In Sicily, there are a lot of influences from Northern Africa and the Middle East on the food,” Mucé says, explaining panelle. “We try to (provide) the classics with stuff that’s really, really not familiar to people in the United States.”

The only thing not made in the market/restaurant is pasta. Fernandes says the family can make its own but they are holding off on that because it is labor-intensive and the owners are unsure whether they will be able to hire enough people for what they are anticipating will be a busy summer season. Cibo sells and sometimes uses in its dishes Garafalo dried pasta and other shelf-stable foods which were in the pantry at home when Antonella and Nick were growing up.

A hand-piped cannoli is one of the offerings on the menu at Cibo Italian kitchen and market, where siblings Nick Muce and Antonella Fernandes are making and selling the food of their childhood.

While her brother handles most of the savory dishes, Fernandes oversees and makes most of the sweet specialties, including Italian classics such as cannoli. There is a bar — more like a soda fountain — offering a dozen flavors of gelato plus Italian coffee drinks.

‘Very grateful for the turnout’

A customer calls Cibo to ask that two chicken cutlets be set aside, and Fernandes yells out the order. One of the clerks grabs two cooked cutlets from the long glass case and wraps them to go. It feels like a routine, a call from a customer who knows Cibo often runs out of that specialty on Fridays.