Chow Town

Paul Rudd’s love of Jasper’s Chicken Parmigiano all about family tradition

Updated: 2013-12-30T21:54:13Z


It started innocently enough on Dec. 9 when hometown boy and actor Paul Rudd confessed to his soft spot for Jasper’s Restaurant.

Rudd was riding the frenzied promotional bandwagon for the “Anchorman” movie sequel about to be released, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

In the much-anticipated comedy, Rudd plays the slightly sleazy, bad-cologne-collecting mustachioed lead reporter Brian Fantana, a member of the film’s hapless polyester-wearing, woman-ogling, fictional San Diego news team.

Rudd told during a publicity interview that he’s been going to Jasper’s most of his life with his family.

Then, as fast as you can say, “Stay classy, San Diego,” Rudd’s favorite Jasper’s dish was revealed, too: Chicken Parmigiano, officially listed on the menu as Pollo Alla Parmigiano.

And that’s where an endearing notion — that of a Hollywood star accompanying his family to a restaurant he’s been chowing down at since childhood — resonated with people and became even more “Aw, don’t you just love that?”

The story catapulted into the social ‘mediasphere,’ thanks to the formidable following of and the local fans of Jasper Mirabile, Jr., chef and owner of the restaurant that in 2014 celebrates 60 years of serving up authentic Italian cuisine, including Rudd’s top pick.

So when Rudd’s hankering for Chicken Parmigiano hit the Internet, Mirabile, in true form, put his new media influence into action. He tweeted and Facebooked Rudd’s chat with People’s online reporter to thousands of his supporters and appeared on local television, demonstrating the finer points of preparing Chicken Parmigiano.

The Kansas City chef made a fine fuss about Rudd’s nod of approval.

Mirabile is an unabashed evangelist of Italian cooking, spreading the gospel of his family’s Sicilian heritage and the tradition of Italian dining in Kansas City that his father, Jasper Sr. and grandfather Leonardo Mirabile started — well, last century, in 1954.

Rudd’s admirers and Mirabile’s followers were paying attention, evidently, because suddenly, on Dec. 10, Team Mirabile was pounding and breading countless chicken breasts, whipping up hundreds of orders of Chicken Parmigiano to meet customer demand.

But the Chicken Parmigiano wasn’t a one-day hit.

The dish, which also received national attention years ago when Tony Soprano professed his adoration of wife Carmela’s chicken parm on “The Sopranos,” became one of Jasper’s top sellers in seven very short days.

A box office smash, if you will.

“So many of our customers — both new and old — wanted it after Paul’s interview we actually thought about changing the name of the restaurant to ‘Jasper’s House of Chicken Parmigiano,’” joked Mirabile, who noted the old-school dish has been a menu staple since the original Jasper’s opened its doors in Waldo.

Being Mirabile’s radio co-host, I figured it was easier to for me to fact-check with him versus Paul Rudd.

“Really?” I queried Mirabile through a text message. “Did the Rudd family frequent Jasper’s and did Paul like Chicken Parmigiano as a kid and does he still eat it when he comes back to Kansas City?”

Yes, Mirabile confirmed, the Rudd family has been a longtime Jasper’s patron and that absolutely, Paul can’t get enough of the Chicken Parmigiano — then or now.

But a voice was missing from the Rudd-Jasper’s-Chicken Parmigiano love fest.

That of Mama Rudd’s.

I issued a lunch invitation to Gloria Rudd: Meet me at Jasper’s for Chicken Parmigiano?

Sure, she graciously replied. Let’s do it.

Several years ago, following the release of a cover story I wrote for a local magazine on Kansas City’s four beloved funny guys, I lunched at Jasper’s with the quartet’s moms: Gloria; Kathy Sudeikis (Jason); Jamey Stonestreet (Eric) and Sandy Riggle (Rob).

The celebrity moms and I sat in the restaurant’s small private dining room, sipping iced teas and nibbling plates of pasta and Shrimp Livornese, caprese salads with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil plucked from Mirabile’s homegrown crop.

As a sweet finale, Jasper made Cherries Jubilee tableside.

The mothers, all fierce protectors of their sons’ privacy, were bonded together like members of a one-of-a-kind sorority.

During the interview process and writing the story I came to understand that being a celebrity mom isn’t really much different from being mom to a kid whose face hasn’t been splashed across a movie screen or appeared on the red carpet or been featured on E! Entertainment.

They’re just regular women who love their sons deeply and have cherished family traditions far, far away from the harsh glare of Hollywood’s spotlight.

Like going to Jasper’s for a bite.

Gloria and I settled into booth 14 at Jasper’s on a brisk mid-December day. The dining room and the adjoining Marco Polo’s Italian Market bustled. Orders of lentil soup and Rigatoni Mido Mio, Monday specials since 1954, flew out of the kitchen, along with towering pieces of the family-recipe lasagna and platters of Mirabile’s signature cannoli.

Chicken Parmigiano was moving nicely, too, according to Mirabile, as he stopped by the booth to greet us and personally deliver my plate of Chicken Parmigiano and a special chicken dish with a reduced wine, cream and fresh marjoram sauce for Gloria, who, despite being teeny-tiny, professes a penchant for rib-sticking food.

I looked down at the Chicken Parmigiano that covered the plate’s circumference in a sort of cheesy, irresistibly tempting, betcha-can’t-eat-me mockery.

Gloria smiled at the dish as if her famous son was sitting with us in booth 14, about to dig into the Italian fare.

“Paul does like that,” she said, her elegant British accent subconsciously reminding me to mind my manners. “He always seems to gravitate to the Chicken Parmesan.”

The ensuing conversation covered all sorts of ground as I tucked into the delicious Rudd-endorsed Chicken Parmigiano.

The grand times Gloria and her late husband, Mike, daughter Mandi and Paul ate at Jasper’s. Mandi taking a date to Jasper’s prior to a high school dance. Mandi and her boyfriend’s first date at Jasper’s and the couple’s subsequent engagement in the very booth we’re sitting today, number 14.

“Mandi’s wedding reception was here,” said Gloria, glancing around the dining room, filled today with holiday revelers and business power-lunchers.

“It was beautiful.”

Paul and his family travel to Kansas City for holidays and fund-raising events such as the Big Slick when he’s not busy filming or working on another project — or when he simply needs a hometown fix.

“We have at least one meal at Jasper’s when Paul is here,” said Gloria, an accomplished cook who still makes English-style roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes for her grown children and grandchildren.

“It’s a tradition.”

Thanking Gloria for spending time to impart a bit of background on Paul and Chicken Parmigiano, I dab the corners of my mouth with a napkin and ask Jasper to box up the remains of my lunch.

“Can’t finish it,” I said. “It’ll be great for dinner, right?”

Gloria and I exchange hugs and depart. She slips out of the restaurant as discreetly as she slipped in.

On the drive home her words echo in my Chicken Parmigiano-addled brain.

“It’s a tradition.”

That’s really what Paul Rudd was crowing about to that writer.

The importance of observing family traditions — something we can all relate to, celebrity or not.

Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.

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