Filomena’s Cafe & Wine Bar – comfort food by popular demand
An abundance of fashionable chefs are opening new restaurants throughout Southern Orange County. If you are looking for an unforgettable homemade Italian dining experience, indulge yourself at Filomena’s Cafe & Wine Bar in the Laguna Design Center.
Linda Johnsen, executive chef and owner has success written all over her face. Johnsen, born in Philadelphia, comes from a heritage rich in Italian history. Johnsen is very proud of her grandmother, Filomena, who raised her. Johnsen tells me the delicious, homemade Italian dishes Filomena always brought to the family table and everything she prepared was made from scratch. “My grandmother always encouraged me not to be afraid to explore food,” said Johnsen.
Johnsen started her career in the culinary industry taking a two-year course in restaurant management. Johnsen’s first culinary position started at the Lobster Pot in Media, PA making creative spinach salads from scratch and then moved on to Atlantic City. “Everyone always liked coming to my house for dinner,” said Johnsen.
Chance knocks on the door with requests to cater weddings. Success grows in leaps and bounds and D-Lauren Catering opens with partner, Paula Pappas. Johnsen moves to Connecticut and she and Pappas open a larger catering business bringing wonderful culinary memories to customers for seven years. In 1998 Johnsen moves to California becoming a successful real estate broker and marries. Johnsen continues her love for cooking although keeping this love at a quiet pace. In 2004 Johnsen became a food vendor at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival, cooking 15,000 meals.
She knew, deep within, this was a passion, although her real wish was to open an Italian market. Chance pops up again in 2013 for Johnsen with the offering to open a restaurant in Costa Mesa. She names it Filomena’s Italian Kitchen, after her dear grandmother. The restaurant opens within a four-month period and flies to success after two months in business. “It’s a family business. My mom, son and daughter all work with me and everyone loves being around the family experience,” said Johnsen.
A property manager from Laguna Niguel was a customer at the Costa Mesa eatery and introduced Johnsen to an available space in the Laguna Design Center. Johnsen had a fear of not taking a chance so onward she goes. Filomena’s Cafe & Wine Bar opens offering the same menu as the Costa Mesa eatery although does not serve the homemade pizza. “We take pride in what the customer experiences bringing only the highest quality of food to the table,” said Johnsen. Johnsen prides herself in telling me she buys only the top of the line products and ingredients. “Our chickens are free-range, organic and boneless, the fish, the breads and the vegetables are brought in fresh daily, along with the flour and cheeses. We make all our own fresh pasta and desserts daily,” said Johnsen. A few of the recipes are from grandmother, Filomena and the majority are Johnsen’s own creative juices at work.
The menu offers an abundance of Johnsen’s homemade from scratch traditional Italian dishes. The papperdelle bolognese – a handmade ribbon-like pasta is prepared fresh daily in a hearty ragu (ground sirloin and pork) bolognese. Johnsen’s special creativity is exposed using red wine, a small amount of tomato paste and special herbs bringing you an unforgettable, can’t stop eating experience. The four cheese ravioli and meatball is another customer favorite served in a large bowl with Johnsen’s Sunday sauce, a rich, creamy tomato sauce covering the melting cheese ravioli’s. Definitely the ultimate in comfort food.
The menu offers fresh sustainable seafood selections with a huge request for the cioppino with shrimp, scallops, clams, king crab and fresh fish in a spicy marinara fish broth. An exciting factor is a sauce option. You can pick your favorite among the marinara, aioli, arrabbiata, Sunday sauce, alfredo, pink sauce or basil pesto. Wow, that’s a first! Additionally you can choose to add chicken, shrimp or scallops to any of the housemade pasta specials. “Everything I make is from scratch and from my heart. It’s the way it should be. Nothing is pre-prepared,” said Johnsen.
Forty seven wine choices from California and Italy are offered by the glass or the bottle. Dining is available indoors and around the outdoor patio area. Johnsen tells me not only did she take the chance to open this restaurant and wine bar that a space is now available for her long time dream to open an Italian market.
Johnsen has sufficient space available in this Laguna Niguel property and will be adding a cooking school, wine dinners and wine pairing events. Johnsen is warm-hearted individual and believes in giving back to community offering support to many local charities.
Johnsen proudly tells me she will be the only female chef of 12 selected for the SOS (Share Our Selves) Celebrity Chef Dinner and Auction coming to the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, October 30.
Filomena’s Cafe & Wine Bar Where: 23811 Aliso Creek Road, Suite 122, Laguna Niguel Hours: Monday-Wednesday,10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Type of Food: Italian. Fresh seafood daily including cioppino, chicken and veal entree specials, housemade specialty pastas, ravioli, lasagna and eggplant dishes. A choice of seven sauce selections are offered for the specialty pastas. Additionally, antipastis, housemade soup of the day, salads, fresh breads, homemade desserts, wine, beer, coffee, cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolate are served. Private parties and full service catering is available.