The Dinner Bell

Frewsburg Restaurant Is A Family Affair

Nina Constantino and her eight-year old daughter, Brionna, pose near the fireplace of The Dinner Bell, the restaurant which has been in their family for many years. Boston Cream Trifle and Mini-Stuffed Peppers are in the foreground. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

“We love to cook. That’s what we do for fun.”

Having come from a strong Sicilian background, cooking for family and friends comes naturally to Nina Constantino’s family. Her mother bought The Dinner Bell Restaurant when she was in second grade.

“She would pack my brother, sister and me in the car at 4:30 a.m. We would sleep in the car,” she remembers. “We would make salads, clean, get in trouble and pretend the giant can opener was our microphone.”

Her life has been anchored to that diner ever since, in fact it is there where she met her husband, Rick Constantino.

“He was a cook and I was 12 years old and I said I was going to marry him,” she says while smiling.

These colorful Mini-Stuffed Peppers may be served as a party food or as an attractive side dish.

After high school Mrs. Constantino earned a master’s degree in special education and an bachelor’s degree in speech language therapy.

“I had an amazing job at Randolph Central School, the best boss and the kids were amazing,” she says with sincerity.

Her brother bought the business after her parents became tired.

“Everyone wanted to stay here but didn’t want to run it,” she says while sitting at a corner table in the pleasant dining room.

She left her job at the beloved Cattaraugus County school to buy the restaurant from her brother when her daughter was two years old because she couldn’t bear to let it go to someone outside the family. She wanted to keep it in the family and she wanted to be able to spend more time with her child. She learned to take advantage of her daughter’s naptimes when she would do whatever tasks she could, such as making out the payroll.

Boston Cream Trifle is a delicious dessert with nice presentation.

“It’s more stressful but there are rewards to it,” she says of being a business-owner. “I am now able to volunteer at the school and have done a Mommy and Me swimming class with my daughter.”

Her mother and brother have since left the business.

“My mother did all of the baking and would make 40 pies at once. She’s a tough act to follow.”

Her father Joe Armeli, provides much of the produce from his garden.

“He is an awesome cook too,” his daughter says.

She likes having her husband work with her on Friday nights for more reasons than the obvious.

“It is kind of neat because we started working together on Friday nights,” she says while reflecting back to the early years of their relationship.”

“I wouldn’t be able to have this place without my sister, Laurie Mattson. She’s my cook. We are family here. When one is out, we all step in. The team is amazing. Kathy Akin has waitressed for 40 years. She’s like a second mom to me. She is incredibly dedicated, caring. She comes in no matter what.”

Mrs. Constantino realizes diners are slowly dying out and attributes the success of her business, not only to her staff, but to her faithful customers as well.

“Some of my customers have been at every one of my life events. When we were little, some customers had my brother and me convinced there was a cow standing in the milk machine.”

A local family, Gloria and Cesar Miranda, stops in with their young son Jude whenever possible.

“We’re here because it is a nice family friendly atmosphere and Jude is welcome,” says his mother. “He loves the pancakes.”

“The food is great. They always have different things,” says the little boy’s father. “The cream puffs are my weakness.” He adds that he likes the capability of having breakfast at any hour of the day. “This is the only place I will eat prime rib.”

“It’s real food and budget friendly,” his wife adds.

Local produce is purchased whenever possible “because you have to support each other.”

Leisure time comes infrequently to the businesswoman but when it does, she enjoys reading murder mysteries and listening to music. She likes to sing but has not done much of it since she sang in the school choir. Organizing is one of her gifts and she enjoys challenging situations where it can be used. Some of her friends have actually asked her to help them with organization. The teachers told her on the first day of her oldest daughter’s preschool they could tell the little girl was her daughter by the way she organized the markers and crayons.

She regrets not being able to attend church because she has to cook every Sunday. A Bible study is held at her house for which she enjoys making snacks.

“I look forward to it.”

Her eight-year old daughter Brionna likes to volunteer with her at the Frewsburg Food Pantry.

Cooking is a passion, but baking is not. She used the opportunity to hone her cooking skills at the age of thirteen, when she moved in with her grandfather for the summer after her grandmother had passed away.

“He was pretty picky but he never complained,” she remembers. “He was thankful I was there and I only set off the smoke detector once.”

The Chicken Wing Soup was created by the cook when she was looking for something that wasn’t too costly and used few ingredients. She knew it would be a hit because everyone likes chicken wing soup. The Oreo Cream Pie idea came when she was making another kind of pie and thought it would be good with the addition of Oreos “and it was.”

“The Mini Stuffed Peppers are basically carb-free and they are pretty.”

In her search to add some new items to the menu she developed Sausage Orzo Soup.

“It’s been really neat to see the customers come in and try new things after the menu had been the same,” she shares. “We brought in a lot more vegetable options, a lot more burgers. I love to feed people.”

Most of the old menu remains, such as the meatloaf and hot roast beef sandwiches. They are known for the giant cream puffs that are made every other Friday. Prime rib is featured every Friday after 4:30 p.m. Several seafood offerings are available throughout the week. Breakfast is the best seller. An interesting item from the breakfast menu is the Family-Size Pancake which the owner serves on a pizza pan. She has donated them to several area schools when they have studied words meaning very large, such as gigantic.

“Five pancakes fed a whole grade,” she says.

A popular spring and summer special menu covering all three meals has been added along with the regular menu. Apple Walnut French Toast, Cinco de Mayo Chicken, Honey-Mustard Chicken Salad and The Parm Tower are a small representation of the interesting seasonal specials.

Brooke, the couple’s three-year old daughter and their Boxer, Kozmo, round out the family. Mrs. Constantino’s mother lives next door and her brother across the street. Rick Constantino is a partner in Forecon, Inc.

The Dinner Bell is located at 15 Center St. in Frewsburg. The hours are Monday-Thursday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday 6 a.m to 8 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to1 p.m. when breakfast only is served. Breakfast is served all day the rest of the week with the exception of Friday when it is served until 4 p.m.

CHICKEN WING SOUP

2 small cans chicken broth

¢ c carrots, diced finely

¢ c celery, diced finely

2 family size cans condensed cream of chicken soup

Water

¢ can milk

1 c shredded cheddar cheese

¢ c hot sauce (red hot)

3 c chicken breast, cooked and shredded

First boil the broth, carrots and celery until fork tender. Add soup with one can of water and milk. IF it is thicker then you prefer add § can of milk. Add cheese, hot sauce and chicken bring to a slight boil. Stir constantly. Simmer until cheese is fully melted.

OREO CREAM PIE

(makes two pies)

2 blocks cream cheese, very soft

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Large tub whipped topping, thawed

1 large bag of Oreo cookies crushed (leaving 6 for decoration)

Hershey Syrup

2 Oreo pie crusts

With an electric mixer, cream the first 2 ingredients very well. Then fold in whipped topping and crushed cookies. Mix well. Pour into crusts. Top with remaining cookies and drizzle with syrup.

STUFFED EGGPLANT BOATS

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained well

6 small eggplants

1 clove garlic, minced

1 c parmesan cheese

1 c mozzarella cheese

2 jars marinara sauce

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut eggplant in half the long way. Scoop out insides leaving some of the skin. Chop well. Mix with beef, garlic, parmesan, ¢ cup mozzarella and 1 jar of the sauce. Rub inside of eggplant with extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put on a baking sheet. Fill eggplant with beef mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Top eggplant with remaining sauce and cheese. Bake approximately 25 minutes longer or until eggplant is fork tender.

CROCK POT CHICKEN SALSA

4 chicken breasts

1 envelope taco seasoning

1 can black beans

1 can corn

1 large jar chunky salsa

4 c cooked rice

Shredded cheddar cheese

Sour cream

avocado

In a 4-6 quart crock pot, add chicken, seasoning, beans, corn and salsa. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. When done, shred chicken using two forks. Serve over rice. Top with cheddar cheese, sour cream and avocado.

BOSTON CREAM TRIFLE

1 yellow cake mix

3 boxes French vanilla pudding

milk

1 small tub whipped topping, thawed

chocolate frosting, homemade or 2 jars of ready made

whipped topping to decorate

Prepare cake mix. Bake in a 9” x 13″ pan. Make pudding according to directions on box. Let set and then fold in whipped topping. In a trifle bowl, layer broken cake pieces, pudding and then big globs of frosting. Repeat layers.

SAUSAGE ORZO SOUP

1 lb bulk Italian sausage

1 jar favorite marinara

2 T beef base

1/3 box orzo

3 c fresh baby spinach

Parmesan cheese

Brown sausage. Drain. Add marinara, 4 jars of water and beef base. Bring to a boil. Add orzo. Cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender. Add a little more water, if needed. Stir in spinach. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

MINI STUFFED PEPPERS

¢ lb sausage

1/3 c finely diced onion

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature

1 c cheddar cheese

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

Large bag multi-colored mini peppers

Brown sausage with onion. Drain well. Add cheeses and seasoning, mixing well. Clean and cut tops from peppers. Scoop out seeds. Using a pastry bag, fill peppers with mixture. Put in baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes to 35 minutes or until fork tender.

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