When Max Bastani moved to the United States, his aim was a higher education. He never envisioned becoming a successful chef, the proprietor of two fabulous restaurants, and a long time resident of Paducah, KY. But sometimes fate has a way of cooking up a recipe that tastes sweeter than anything we imagined. “When I came to the U.S.,” says Max, “I decided to go to Murray State.”
There, Max met his wife Judy and attained a degree in electrical engineering. Max and Judy moved to Chicago as he continued his education. It was there Max discovered his love of cooking. “My dad didn’t own an oil well or anything, so I had to work the whole time I was in school. I took a job as a chef at a place called 95th in Chicago. The owner seemed to like me quite a bit, so he taught me everything he knew.” It was then that Max’s heart and hands were drawn toward becoming a chef.
Max and Judy returned to the West Kentucky area in the mid- 70s, ready to open a restaurant of their own. Says Max, “Judy’s parents live here, and we wanted to go into the restaurant business with them.” And Max’s venture was more than a success. “Our first restaurant was The Pines. We opened in 1977 and really wanted to have a place that was upscale and unique to Paducah.
We had a café, a full bar, and even cut the steaks at the tables to the customers’ desired thickness.” The Pines quickly became a Paducah landmark and one of Paducah’s premiere restaurants. But during the 90s, Max’s eye began to turn to a new location. “Downtown was pretty quiet, but I could see something going on there. It was coming back to life. We made a pretty big decision to sell The Pines and open something new downtown. But after nearly twenty years at The Pines, I was ready for something new. And downtown Paducah was ready for something new as well.”
In 1998, Paducah gained another landmark eatery when Max’s Brick Oven Café debuted on the Market Square. “It’s casual dining with an accent. That’s our motto!” And Max’s new venture featured his now famous brick oven. “The brick oven pizzas are just fabulous. But those are not the only dishes we use the brick oven for. We have cannelloni, lasagna, cubano pork tenderloin, and roasted salmon on a cedar board, just to name a few. Our menu is very international. We have Italian to Greek to dishes that would be right at home in New Orleans.”
Max is very much at home in the heart of downtown Paducah. “I love it here. Paducah is a great place to raise a family. I have watched my daughter and two sons grow up here. The restaurant business has been good to me. And Paducah Bank has been so wonderful to work with. We know everyone there, and they are our friends. Carla, Wally, Joe, and everyone have been so good to us. They are simply the nicest people to work with. They love the local businesses and love working with downtown development. I know if I need anything, all I have to do is call.”
The railings surrounding the patio were salvaged from the Carnegie Library fire of 1963, as was the interior staircase railing. The African mahogany shutters by the patio doors, the server station and the entire façade of the bar once graced the interior of the old St. Mary Academy that was demolished in 1997. The massive front doors were probably opened by many Paducah citizens in their youth, as they were the original front doors of the St. Mary Academy. The glass tiles above the front doors are original to this 1898 building as is the Jackson Foundry cast iron storefront. The art deco chandeliers in the dining room once illuminated the Benton Methodist Church. Visible from the street in front of the building is a small triangular stained glass window that was purchased in Chicago, but was salvaged from a demolished Catholic Church in Cairo, Illinois. The bricks that compose the wood burning oven were once the exterior walls of the St. Mary Academy. The paintings on the walls in Max’s bar are advertising posters of the '20s and '30s, mostly of French design, that were beautifully duplicated by local artist Amy Taylor Nolan, as was the large figure that graces the dining room staircase. It is a replica of a Guy Buffet painting that he was commissioned to create for Perrier-Jouet Champagne.