“Chef Frank Comito figures he has around 1,000 cookbooks in his personal collection and more than 30 years under his belt cooking all manner of dishes. Locally, that’s 15 years at Spokane Country Club, three years at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, and a year or so running the local restaurant group that includes Steelhead Bar & Grille, The Barrel Steak & Seafood and Morty’s Tap & Grill. Before that, Comito ran kitchens for several large resorts in Oregon, did a guest cooking gig in Hong Kong and even opened his own French-inspired patisserie.
Yet since joining Commellini Estate, Comito has been focused on one type of food: Italian.
During our visit, for example, he’s perfecting his pasta-making techniques for one of many upcoming classes ($85; find the complete schedule on the venue’s Facebook page) at Commellini Estate. He wills his thick fingers into forming delicate farfalle, which look like bowties but translates to butterflies. He twists pieces of dough into trofie and curls other pieces into strozzapreti, an elongated kind of the more familiar cavatelli pasta.
Comito also has taught Commellini guests how to make gnocchi and ravioli, fine-tuning the dough so that all the participants can be successful, he says.
But when it comes to sauce for the pasta, there is no fine-tuning of ingredients or techniques. Instead, Comito relies on recipes that date back to the days when Albert Commellini and his younger sister Leda first lured diners in the 1940s to the former chicken-ranch-turned-restaurant north of Spokane’s Fairwood neighborhood.
“I can do anything I want to all the other recipes, except for the three sauces, and the chicken cacciatore,” says Comito, who joined Commellini in June 2022, during the height of the popular event venue’s wedding season.
The “three sauces” include Albert’s white wine alfredo — Albert was reputed to make his own wine — and Leda’s bolognese meat sauce, which now features local Browning Beef. The third sauce, a hearty marinara rich with onions, tomatoes, garlic, Italian spices and olive oil, is courtesy of Albert and Leda’s niece, Gina Seghetti, whose daughter-in-law Lauri and granddaughter Desiree Seghetti-Sulpizio, have run Commellini Estate since 2009.
Then there’s the chicken cacciatore, which is a closely guarded family secret, so much so that Comito had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, he says.
“When I think of what’s in the traditional cacciatore, it’s chicken with, you know, a red sauce, a sweeter red sauce, a little bit of spice and a lot of bell peppers,” he says.
And at Commellini? Comito shakes his head and smiles.
Commellini Estate encompasses about 200 acres on North Dartford Drive, the original route of Highway 395 that parallels Spring Creek as it meanders down to the Little Spokane River. Guests can tour the estate during its new Speakeasy Supper Club series; the next is set for Jan. 21 ($85). Lasting around 45 minutes, it includes a historical tour highlighting the estate’s more colorful past replete with mobsters, celebrities, and bootleggers, but also decades of diners.
Tours originate at the entrance to one of the estate’s underground tunnels from its bootlegger days — hence inspiring the “speakeasy” in the event title — progressing to the 1920s Army truck and guard-house-turned-bus-stop, according to Seghetti-Sulpizio.
“The tour primarily covers our Prohibition past, the chicken ranch, the original homestead and the famous restaurant/event venue that Leda Commellini started,” Seghetti-Sulpizio says.
After the tour, diners settle in for a five-course meal similar in format to the original one that the Commellinis offered until the 1970s when Leda’s health declined. Originally, when you called to make a reservation, explains Comito, you ordered for your dining party up front.
And you were told, “Hey, we have these three things: chicken cacciatore, fried chicken and some kind of steak. Which one do you want?” Comito relays. “And there was no discussion about ‘Oh, hey, I’m gluten free’ or ‘I don’t like anchovies. I mean, it was none of that kind of stuff in the day.'”
Now, of course, dietary restrictions are a bigger deal — both the meat sauce and marinara are gluten-free, for example — but Commellini still does a five-course meal for its supper clubs starting with a relish tray. For the Jan. 21 dinner, it’s followed by mushroom soup, and pasta with polpettine or miniature meatballs and Gina’s marinara. Up next is a tenderloin with a Chianti reduction. The meal concludes with the Italian classic dessert known as tiramisu: a rich yet airy cake made with layers of ladyfingers infused with coffee and Frangelico and mascarpone mousse.
The meal is also served at large tables in the open-plan dining room, which features a mix of styles, from rustic wood-paneled walls to an elaborate terrazzo floor and Corinthian-style columns at the entrance. Drawings of Leda and Albert, framed photos, and other historic items on the walls lend a homey feeling.
People might come as strangers, but they can also leave as friends, says Marina Purdie, the estate’s sales and marketing manager.
“Our hope is to create an experience that fills a fundamental human desire to slow down, gather around a big table and truly enjoy a meal,” Purdie says. ♦”
Commellini Estate • 14715 N. Dartford Rd., Spokane • Hours vary • commellini.com • 509-466-0667″