While it's true Hamilton's best-known restaurant for fine dining is Shakespeare's Dining Lounge, how many people would know that it also serves ostrich filet mignon, buffalo steaks or wild boar?
When Chef Franco Putignano started his restaurant in 1969, it began as a steak house. But over the years, as the public's tastes changed, so did the menu. Now customers can order not only prime U.S. Choise corn fed beef steaks, but wild game which also includes caribou and venison.
Shakespeare's also provides an extensive selection of fish, including live lobster, fresh salmon, sea bass, trout, pirkcerel, red snapper and swordfish. The fish, just like everything else that is served, is personally selected each morning from Hamilton suppliers to ensure freshness.
In addition to his efforts to bring his customers the finest in dining fare, Mr Putignano regularly travels to Europe to personally select wines for his table. Now his wine list offers the best selection in the city. "I'm very strong on quality, freshness and service." Mr Putignano explains. "To me, good food, good wine and good service all go together." he adds. "I want people to have the best dining experience possible, and I want them to feel at home when they're here, "Exotic dishes and quality steaks aren't the only things emphasized on Shakespeare's menu.
Mr. Putignano has also devised a "Heart Smart" selection of dishes which are low in cholesterol and salt. It's been approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation fo Canada, and reassures diners that healthy eating need not be bland and boring. The result of the care and service to customers means that Shakespeare's has managed to weather the recession and keep and steady clientele, a large number of which are regular customers.
In addition, celebrities such as Tom Jones, Ricardo Montalban, Harry Belafonte, Liberace, Rock Hudson, Kathleen Robertson, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Tom Cochrane, Daniel Lanois, Marc Garneau, Bernie Falonie, Darryl Sittler, Mark Messier, Martin Short, Angelo Mosca, Janet Jones and Peter Ustinov have all made their way to Shakespeare's when they were in town.
Mr. Putignano's son Leo, manages the dining room while his daughter Christina bartends in the restaurant. Their mother, Nicole, handles the bookkeeping and weekend hosting duties and his son-in-law, Peter Smith, also assists in managing the restaurant. The arrangement enables Mr. Putignano to see his family through the week while working from 9 am until 1am, Monday to Saturday. "I don't mind the long days," he says "I've got the business in the blood, and I love people. I work longer hours now, but I love it." he adds. "During the receission, we didn't cut back on quality-we always tried to do better. And it worked."
In 1994, Mr Putignano was issued a certificate by the City, honouring him for his 25 years in the business. Included in the many other honours in 1995 alone are his nomination as Iron Man of the Year from the Hamilton & District Chamber of Commerce and the bestowing of three Spectator Reader's Choice Awards for Best Steak House, Best Sea Food Restaurant and Best French Restaurant. The awards are fitting recognition for his dedication to providing the best to his customers for so long.
"Nothing comes easy. You have to work hard," Mr Putignano says, "I feel proud of my family, my staff and my restaurant. And I'm proud to have been a part of Hamilton for 40 years."
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