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Mangia Italiana

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The bounty of Italian cuisine in The D is as diverse as Italy itself. Whether you're looking for culinary traditions hailing from Italy's Anglo-Saxon-inspired northern regions, the bright flavors of Tuscany, the rich tastes of Rome, the Mediterranean fusion of Sicily or Americanized versions of Italian staples, outstanding examples of them all abound throughout the area.

To find some of the best, Visit Detroit polled several of its regular contributors and staff members. All were asked to dine at their favorites and then share their insider's view as to why their pick is a standout among many. So, welcome to their tour of Italy in metro Detroit. You're sure to find that one, two or more of these eateries will make you polish off your plate, rub your belly and say, "Grazie!"

bucciristorante

Bucci Ristorante
Grosse Pointe Woods

An open kitchen is a treat at any restaurant, but Bucci's (boo-cheese) resembles a stage and the cooks impossibly graceful dancers effortlessly whipping up signature dishes. It's well worth the wait to secure one of the few stools along the broad granite bar just to see them in action. But no matter where you're seated, your palate will thrill to the passionate skill of chef/owner Bujar Mamuslari. The well-edited menu and wine list reflect his years of European training and his ability to offer dishes that bear little similarity to the typical heavily sauced offerings often found at other Italian restaurants. In fact, seafood is more prominent here than at many Italian spots. But if you are a traditionalist, please consider the fine eggplant parmigiana. For me, though, the chicken and shrimp fiorentina always brings me back. The chicken and jumbo shrimp are dressed in lemon wine sauce presented over sautéed spinach and tomato concasse. An arugula salad, a side of toothsome pasta, and an elegant tiramisu or steamy espresso help complete my favorite culinary ballet.

– Kim Silarski, Visit Detroit copy editor and contributing writer, is a fan of TV chefs Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain. She is blessed with a husband who both grocery shops and cooks.

 

Cafe Cortina

Café Cortina
Farmington Hills

One thing I always notice when I step into an Italian restaurant is the music. Café Cortina gets that right, right off the bat. I'm not talking about opera, classical or that big moon in your eye sort of stuff, either. They kick modern popular Italian music at an easy-on-the-ears-so-you-can-still-talk level and it's quite refreshing. The wait staff greets you with a pleasant "buon giorno," too. That all adds to the warm and friendly atmosphere, which sends you straight to a small cafe in Italy.

Looking for the basics like pasta al dente? Got it. Homemade ravioli with fresh ricotta? Deeelish. Great vino? Sure. Fresh bread? Of course. How about stepping out of your comfort zone and sampling a signature dish? That's what I do when I'm there. They have this homemade pasta with lamb and sun-dried tomatoes that's amazing. And, I can't get enough of the seasonal zuppa di zucca (buttnernut squash soup) with its peppery bite and bits of fresh fruit and walnuts right in the soup. I could go on and on with this dribble, but you'd be better off zipping on over to Café Cortina to eat for yourself. Mangia!

– Bill Bowen, creative director for Visit Detroit magazine, is no food snob, but enjoys eating and for what it's worth, has been fortunate enough to travel to Italy more than once.

 

giovannisristorante

Giovanni's Ristorante
Detroit

Off the beaten path on Oakwood Boulevard in southwest Detroit, Giovanni's Ristorante has long been my favorite destination for an authentic and delicious Italian experience. The menu features a wide range of classic Italian stalwarts. Starters include minestrone soup and a wonderful Caesar salad with fresh ribbons of Parmesan on top. Entrees encompass a large variety of veal, chicken and seafood dishes, but the pasta is truly the standout here. All the pasta is fresh made in the kitchen, and that's obvious when you take your first, perfectly al dente bite. Traditional offerings such as manicotti and lasagna never disappoint, but I highly recommend the fresh-made Parmesan-potato gnocchi in a rich porcini, white wine and cream sauce. Incredibly dense, rich and earthy tasting, this dish is simply outstanding. The wine list is also superb, featuring a collection of both traditional Italian varietals, including a fine selection of Barolos and a full page devoted to Super Tuscan blends. Half bottles and wine-by-the-glass are available as well. And as a perfect way to finish off the night, make sure to save room for a homemade cannoli.

– Tom DeMay, partner at Octane Design, production house for Visit Detroit, often envisions himself sitting in a ristorante in Montalcino enjoying a rustic pasta dish accompanied by several glasses of Brunello.

 

lucianosrestaurant

Luciano's Restaurant
Clinton Township

Luciano's is where the Italians go when they decide to dine out for Italian. I know this because I married into an Italian family – the kind that cans its own tomatoes and stuffs its own sausage – and Luciano's has earned our high praise. A local favorite for 20-plus years, Luciano's is owned and operated by the Gianino family. The charming, Old World décor coupled with warm and friendly service make you feel right at home. Photos of grandchildren adorn the lobby walls. One of the dining rooms is a beautifully lit trompe l'oeil village design with 3-D accents inspired by Luciano Gianino's hometown of Augusta, Sicily. The true test of any Italian restaurant is the quality of its sugo (sauce), and Luciano's scores an A+. The meat sauce is just right and the Alfredo is light and perfectly seasoned. Pasta Marinara is a house specialty, with fresh and tender sautéed shrimp, scallops, clams and calamari served in a red sauce over a bed of fettuccini. The beauty of the expansive menu is that recipes rely on simple ingredients and a simple presentation. It's the taste that takes center stage.

– Michelle Fusco, Visit Detroit contributing writer, would marry Italian cuisine if it were a person. She counts a homemade pasta dinner with her family among life's greatest joys.

 

ristorantedifratelli

Ristorante Di Fratelli
Shelby Township

Find out where the locals like to eat, and you've struck gold. Such is the case at Di Fratelli, where neighbors greet each other as they make their way to their tables. The "Restaurant of Brothers" has been serving up traditional Italian fare since 2001, when brothers-in-law Joe Costanza and Skip Special teamed up. Costanza uses his Sicilian heritage to create a menu based on beloved family recipes. A customer favorite is the homemade gnocchi. Costanza mixes the perfect blend of potatoes and ricotta cheese to create the dough, then he hand rolls each piece on a specially designed board. The result is tiny grooved dumplings about the size of an adult pinky finger that are just out of this world. Customers can top their gnocchi, and any pasta, with one of three sauces: marinara, meat or palomino, a cream and red sauce combination. Di Fratelli's chicken dishes keep customers coming back for more. Costanza's chicken parmigiana is one of his signature creations – and one of my favorites.

– Michele Jasukaitis, Visit Detroit contributing writer, uses her Italian grandmother's rolling pin for good luck when attempting to make her own pasta dough.

 

romacafe

Roma Cafe
Detroit

The Roma Cafe in downtown Detroit's historic Eastern Market is the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit, dating back to 1890. Walking through the heavy doors feels as if you are taking a step back through time. Owner Jan Sossi Belcoure even says the place looks almost as it did 80 years ago. The food is classic Italian-American: big flavors in even bigger portions with no holding back on the butter. I find the gnocchi a la palomino alone makes Roma worth a visit. The house-made creamy tomato basil sauce – redolent with the luscious smell of garlic – covers tender yet firm potato dumplings. This dish, a solid representation of a menu full of hearty pastas and heaping helpings of sautéed seafood and USDA prime steaks, is a standout of rib-sticking simplicity. It also happens to be vegetarian, though that won't be the first thought that occurs to you after taking that first rich, mouthwatering bite. You might also want to try the fresh lake perch with Roma's signature savory meat sauce or the restaurant's custom chopped salad, made fresh – and at the individual request – for each guest.

– Nicole Rupersburg, freelance metro Detroit-based food writer, has been enjoying Italian cuisine for as long as she can remember.

 

zazios

Zazios
Birmingham

Modern sophistication meets Old World charm at Zazios, where service, quality and plentiful dining options blend seamlessly with contemporary urban style and warmth. Chef Jamie Kalmus brings the Chef's Table experience to life on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as 2 to 16 (or more) guests sit at tables positioned stadium-style to watch their five-course gourmet meal come to life. Imagine being on your favorite Food Network cooking show, where you get to ask Chef Jamie questions while he prepares a meal for you and all your friends and family. To make the viewing even easier, the cooking area is projected on big television monitors to show the mixture of ingredients, timing, pans, techniques and all the tools of the trade. It's a wonderful performance and meal. The Chef's Table menu is remixed every month, based on a new food theme and new region in Italy.

If you don't have time or the appetite for the chef's gourmand experience, try to hit the happy hour in the Z lounge from 4-7 p.m. weekdays. Monday through Thursday, five small plates are available for $5 each. These include 'Nduja sausage bruschetta, sopressata (Italian-cured dry salami), focaccia lamb sliders, truffle-scented fried Yukon potatoes and Margherita pizza. I like to visit during martini and house wine night, which takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But my favorite meal is the seared sea scallops (capesante), with baby arugula, crisp artichokes, Grana Padano (hard, white Italian cheese) and truffle balsamic vinaigrette. Scrumptious.

– Dee Menshaw, fervent metro Detroit cheerleader and Visit Detroit associate, is a longtime food lover who longs to travel to Italy for the sights, sounds and, of course, food.

Dinner with the Pope

Buca di Beppo is a fun, casual, raucous family restaurant. The food is simple southern Italian served family-style. That means HUGE portions at low prices, enough to feed a family of four or more. If your group is extra-large, reserve the kooky Pope Table, a private room that seats up to 20 people decorated entirely in kitschy pope memorabilia, complete with the piece de resistance: a bust of the current pope encased on a giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table.

  bucadibeppo
38888 6 Mile Road
Livonia, 48152 GN
(734) 462-6442
bucadibeppo.com
  12575 Hall Road
Utica, 48137 M
(586) 803-9463

 

Getting There

1. Bucci Ristorante
20217 Mack Ave.
Grosse Pointe Woods, 48236 DW
313-882-1044
ristorantebucci.com

 

2. Café Cortina
30715 W. 10 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, 48336 GN
(248) 474-3033
cafecortina.com

 

3. Giovanni's Ristorante
330 S. Oakwood Blvd.
Detroit, 48217 DW
313-841-0122
giovannisristorante.com

 

4. Luciano's Restaurant
39091 Garfield Road
Clinton Twp., 48038 M
(586) 263-6540
lucianosfinestitaliancuisinerestaurant.com

 

5. Ristorante Di Fratelli
49860 Van Dyke
Shelby Twp., 48317 M
(586) 739-6322
difratellis.com

 

6. Roma Cafe
3401 Riopelle St.
Detroit, 48207 DD
313-831-5940
romacafe.com

 

7. Zazios
34977 Woodward Ave.
Birmingham, 48009 o
(248) 530-6400
zazios.com

 

 
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