Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
This week on Let’s Go, South Florida host Arlene Borenstein visits Rocca Trattoria in Lighthouse Point.
Sicilian-born Lucia Saglimbeni will tell you her Lighthouse Point restaurant Rocca Trattoria isn’t a business.
“It’s a place where you get the same feeling as if you are at home, that each and every plate is made with love.”
She isn’t just saying this.
The chef came alone to the United States from Italy in 2014. Her mother had died the year before in an accident involving a drunk driver. Saglimbeni was driving the car when the driver cut them off and her car flipped over.
“There were too many memories. I focused on starting my life over in another country,” she said. “Cooking has helped me overcome my mother’s death and to understand that life goes on, that we should keep fighting for our dreams.”
Just fours years earlier she had lost her brother in a motorcycle accident. Her one living sibling, a sister, lives in Mexico. Her father, an Italian restaurant owner, died when she was 10-years-old.
“Even in that short time, he taught me a lot about the kitchen,” the chef says. “At my house we cooked as a family and in true Italian tradition we shared in this experience and ate a lot.”
For Saglimbeni, her customers are her family. And all the recipes her mother taught her are on the menu, like the pasta al forno her mother made nearly every Sunday.
“My cousins loved that pasta made with small meatballs — that I also make — pieces of ham, pieces of mozzarella, parmesan cheese, eggplant and green beans. Everything together to cook in the oven. It’s spectacular pasta. I love that pasta too. It’s my favorite,” she says.
She describes her dishes as authentically Sicilian, including her lasagna made with both a béchamel and Bolognese sauce. Her pasta is made fresh at the restaurant each day. She also serves thin crust, crunchy pizza and will make it any way the customers would like: “Sauce. No sauce. Doesn’t matter.”
The restaurant is an ode to her parents, even down to the name.
“Rocca is my mother’s birthplace,” she said. “They were very hard workers and I want to do the right things like they did. They inspire me even if they aren’t here physically.”
The Eat Beat – Restaurants, Bars and Recipes Newsletter
Dining out, cooking in and all the South Florida restaurant news and information you need.
One of their favorite dishes is the ossobuco ravioli. They say they can taste the love Saglimbeni puts into her cooking, and enjoy speaking with her at the table.
“I think it’s a lot of the owner involvement and the freshness of the product,” says Diaz, who is a trained chef and manages the food service program at an assisted living center.
Saglimbeni graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Miramar but also studied in Venezuela and Italy. She lives in Pompano Beach with her three dogs Nico, Lucas and Lucky. Because of the pandemic, she’s had to take a morning job at a bakery from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. to keep her restaurant going.
“Even though life is difficult, we shouldn’t stop working towards what impassions us,” she says. “It’s not about making money. It’s only about the warmth of family who are my customers after everything I’ve been through.”
The chef is working on starting lunch service soon.
Rocca Trattoria is at 2014 E. Sample Road. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Find them on Facebook or call 954-876-1733.