NYC restaurants embrace family traditions with Sunday dinners and roasts

Burke & Wills, an Australian restaurant on the Upper West Side, has added a Sunday roast to its menu. "The idea of families coming together for Sunday Roast is a very Australian tradition that we wanted to share with our local families," owner Heathe St. Clair says. Photo Credit: Burke and Wills

Whether it’s Sunday Roast at Passage and Burke & Wills, or “Tutto a Tavola” at Felidia, many restaurants are embracing the Sunday family meal.

Burke & Wills, an Australian restaurant on the Upper West Side, has added a Sunday roast to its menu. 
Burke & Wills, an Australian restaurant on the Upper West Side, has added a Sunday roast to its menu. “The idea of families coming together for Sunday Roast is a very Australian tradition that we wanted to share with our local families," owner Heathe St. Clair says. Photo Credit: Historic Richmond Town

“Sunday dinner” is a mainstay in many family homes, often deriving from cultural traditions. It provides a set time to catch up, enjoy good food and connect with family and friends before the coming workweek.

But even if New Yorkers are far from home, they can still feel like they’re sitting around grandma’s kitchen table at local restaurants that are embracing tradition by adding special Sunday supper programs.

Australian Upper West Side haunt Burke & Wills just added a “Sunday Roast” menu from executive chef Jonathan Perez, mimicking a series that was successful in their former restaurant The Sunburnt Cow.

The Irish Sunday roast at Passage in Astoria generally includes beef, chicken or lamb with roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and Irish-style vegetables (carrots, parsnips and turnips).
The Irish Sunday roast at Passage in Astoria generally includes beef, chicken or lamb with roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and Irish-style vegetables (carrots, parsnips and turnips). Photo Credit: Passage

“We are a very neighborhood restaurant,” said owner Heathe St. Clair. “The idea of families coming together for Sunday Roast is a very Australian tradition that we wanted to share with our local families. Sunday roast is when families come together and eat, drink and talk about what happened in the week that just passed.”

Though St. Clair says an Australian roast normally equates to roast leg of lamb, they are offering multiple protein choices, and the entire menu has a decidedly fall twist. This includes slow roasted chicken with bread stuffing, crispy heritage pork belly with apple and sage, roasted grass-fed sirloin and BBQ cauliflower steak for vegetarians.

Another country where English Sunday roast carried over is Ireland, and Irish gastropub Passage in Astoria started its roast service a little more than a year ago. General Manager Kieran Mansfield says the tradition dates back hundreds of years.

“Sunday Roast is typically a meal that is served after mass on Sundays,” he said. “Originally, families would have the meat and vegetables cooking as they headed off to mass. It’s the biggest meal of the week with the best meat being saved for Sundays. As sometimes family members not living in the house would arrive over for it, it helps to invoke a sense of gathering and comfort.”

Sunday roast at Burke & Wills includes multiple protein options, including roasted chicken, pork belly, leg of lamb and more.
Sunday roast at Burke & Wills includes multiple protein options, including roasted chicken, pork belly, leg of lamb and more. Photo Credit: Burke and Wills

Mansfield says the roast generally includes beef, chicken or lamb with roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and Irish-style vegetables (carrots, parsnips and turnips). Their more traditional Sunday roast menu (which changes each week) includes items like roast beef, turkey, ham, “boiled bacon” and cabbage with parsley sauce. But they also like to add modern twists during some weekends, like butter-stuffed chicken Kiev with cheesy cauliflower, mashed and roasted potatoes.

“That is one of the reasons we decided to do it here in New York, as it is comfort food,” he said. “A taste of home is always appreciated … An Irish pub is more than just a bar, it is a place for people of all kinds to come together. It is a community.”

Similarly to Irish tradition, Felidia Head Chef Fortunato Nicotra said that Sunday dinners in Italy also involve different family members bringing dishes to share before the workweek begins. He and owner Lidia Bastianich introduced “Tutto a Tavola” (everything on the table) about five years ago, which offers family-style platters of food at an affordable price point, only available on Sundays.

Nicotra was born in Sicily, but grew up in northern Torino, and said that it’s traditional in the south of Italy to spend Sunday with all of the family.

“I have three kids, and I wanted to deliver a meal that kids can enjoy, and at the same time they can be trying different foods,” Nicotra said. “It’s less formal to just put everything on the table and not have individual dishes, to do it family-style so kids can try a bunch of different things. It’s traditional but not very common so I would like to see it done more.”

A plate of pasta at Williamsburg Italian wine bar Ainslie, which is debuting a Sunday supper for $40 per person with wine pairings.
A plate of pasta at Williamsburg Italian wine bar Ainslie, which is debuting a Sunday supper for $40 per person with wine pairings. Photo Credit: Ainslie

Though it incorporates some traditional elements, like an antipasti with items like salumi, prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato, “Tutto a Tavola” also offers some more Italian-American elements like lasagna, and transforms the menu during each season. On the fall menu, which will be available later in October, a lamb chop typically replaces chicken, the beet salad will be made with apples, and the Caprese salad will incorporate broccoli rabe and squash.

And if your fix still isn’t met, some other options for family-style Sunday comfort food include: Lamia’s Fish Market, which just launched “Paella Sundays,” a Mediterranean tradition that restaurateur Lamia Funti and her family grew up loving; Williamsburg multilevel Italian wine bar Ainslie, which is debuting an Italian Sunday Supper for $40 per person with wine pairings; and Au Za’atar, whose Sunday offerings mimic a condensed version of the way families in Lebanon eat, enjoying rounds of food, like baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, and more, a round of raw meats including kibbe naye (lamb tartare) and veal liver, then a round of homemade stews, and after that possibly some BBQ kebab’s.

Claire Leaden