Chef Q&A: Executive Chef Linda Hanson

Big Al's owner Linda Hanson displays the Classic Italian Hoagie which includes ham, cappicola and Genoa salami topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and cheese.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo

Big Al's owner Linda Hanson displays the Classic Italian Hoagie which includes ham, cappicola and Genoa salami topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and cheese.

Big Al's Deli

715 Bald Eagle Dr, Marco

Big Al’s

715 Big Eagle Drive, Pelican Plaza, Marco Island. Phone: 642-8080

Began working at present restaurant:

Well, before my husband Tom and I bought Big Al’s in January 2000, I worked approximately one year at Big Al’s for the original owner, Al Landers.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?

That was a long time ago. I always liked to cook, then we owned a restaurant in Chicago for 21 years, and I cooked there and I still enjoy cooking.

What was your first restaurant job?

In Chicago, at the restaurant my husband Tom and I owned for 21 years.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

Some people might say way too long — 21 years in Chicago and when we got here, 8 years ago. I just kept on cooking. I still enjoy doing it and the compliments I get are a plus.

How would you describe your cooking style?

Contemporary homestyle — the kind your mom cooked but with a little twist.

What is your most popular dish?

Can I say everything? But customers really like my creamy clam chowder. Sometimes I make it on Thursday or sometimes on Friday, but I’ve noticed that many people call on Thursday to see if it’s on the menu Friday. Also my secret ingredient makes it nice and I slice the potatoes a certain way and that gives it the nice creamy texture.

Where do you like to eat out on the island?

We just like to hang out at home weekends — take care of the dogs — give them a little more attention.

What is your favorite snack?

Pretzels — sometimes I don’t know what I feel like eating, so I’ll grab a pretzel.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your freezer?

I cook dinner every night, mostly some kind of seafood, and there’s usually shrimp in my freezer.

What is your specialty? Why?

I have a flair for creatively cooking seafood. My husband Tom really loves my sautéed red snapper

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

I can’t avoid making a mess occasionally, usually on Monday. Basically, I like a neat workplace.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I get a sense of accomplishment from cooking food. I find it challenging to take raw ingredients and combine them into a dish that tastes good. I enjoy hearing how my customers like my chowder and my homemade meatballs. I’m pleased that many people come and get take-out for our “Bowl of Meatballs with Bread” and then cook the pasta at home to make it a meal.

• • •

Big Al’s Trio Sampler

The sampler includes three scoops, one each of tuna salad, chicken salad and egg salad, garnished with sliced cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes served on a bed of romaine hearts and purple cabbage, and served with a choice of eight homemade salad dressings.

Classic Italian Hoagie

Chef Linda Hanson’s large-size, cold Classic Italian Hoagie includes sliced ham, cappicola and Genoa salami and provolone cheese piled into a large hoagie roll and choice of lettuce, tomato, onions, sweet and hot peppers, seasonings along with olive oil and wine vinegar: mayo or mustard on request.

Hot Pastrami Melt

Big Al’s Chef Linda Hanson’s famous hot pastrami melt includes sliced pastrami piled on a home-baked roll along with three varieties of sliced cheeses, provolone, American and Swiss, the broiled with additional shredded Swiss cheese on top of the roll.

House Specials Combination Wrap

Chef Linda Hanson’s House Specials Combination Wrap includes sliced honey maple turkey breast, along with sun-dried tomato and special walnut pesto with feta cheese, as well as lettuce, tomato and onion stuffed into a wrap and grilled on the press.

Hot Stuff

Big Al’s Hot Stuff menu section list several items featuring Linda’s homemade meatballs, including bowl of meatballs with bread, large of regular sizes of Linda’s homemade meatballs for take-out, or meatball and sausage sandwich on a home-baked roll.

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