More than pizza
A shortlist of notable Italian restaurants in metro Detroit
Published: June 22, 2011
Luigi's 36691 Jefferson Ave., Harrison Twp.; 586-468-7711; luigisoriginal.com; $$$: The somewhat kitschy setting of checkered tablecloth, faux grapevines and strings of small red and green lights don't prepare you for the quality of service. Whether you're dining in the dark and boisterous front room or the more sedate and well-lit back, you're sure to be impressed by the efficiency of the waitstaff. Of course, Luigi's offers typical Italian fare: various pasta dishes, ravioli, veal or chicken done in your choice of Parmesan, marsala or picatta. The menu veers further American with steaks, chops and the ubiquitous slab of baby back ribs.
Maggiano's Little Italy 2089 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-205-1060; $$$: A visit to the free-standing castle-like edifice east of Crooks on Big Beaver Road offers some answers. Many come for the family dinners ($27.95) that include two huge platters each from an encyclopedic selection of appetizers, salads and desserts and four selections collectively from the array of pastas and entrées. And virtually all of those who bravely confront the mounds of food will go home with sizable doggie bags. The intelligent wine list features some bottles for less than $30.
Maria's Front Room 215 W. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-7379; mariasfrontroom.com; $$: After a troubled few years, which included a bankruptcy and a closing, a new management team, headed up by Dave Brown of nearby Nami Sushi, reopened the spot. Brown worked with the original family, bought all the old recipes, and the menu is about two-thirds the same classic cheese-laden, calories-be-damned Italian, rounded out by some new house specials.
Mario's Restaurant 4222 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-1616; $$$: It's been 50 years since Mario Lelli opened this inviting Italian spot where generations of theatergoers have enjoyed multicourse meals. This is exactly the kind of place people think of when they think Italian restaurant. All the favorites from veal Tosca and spaghetti Bolognese to shrimp scampi and chicken cacciatore are served by a competent waitstaff in a series of rooms.
Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge 804 Erie St. E., Windsor, Ontario; 519-252-4055; mezzo.ca; $$: A good, stylish restaurant in the center of the Via Italia, Windsor's Erie Street Italian strip. The ambitious food varies from pretty good to great. The meal starts with a thoughtful touch, a "tasting" of a complimentary morsel from the chef. The chef's wild mushroom soup is a superb puree of Portobello, shitake and cremini mushrooms. Squash is paired with mutzu apple in the delightful house-made ravioli with a creamy sun-dried tomato sauce.
Moro's Dining 6535 Allen Rd., Allen Park; 313-382-7152; morosdining.com; $$$: Moro's is somewhat of a time-warp — including the fact that they offer old-fashioned (tuxedoed) professional service. Most entrées cost around $15 and include everything from soup to potatoes. Owner Thomas Moro butchers his own veal, the specialty of the house included in 10 different dishes.
Portofino 3455 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte; 734-281-6700; portofinoontheriver.com; $$$: The main reason to visit Portofino is the water, which looks inviting as you gaze at the wooded tip of Grosse Ile, watching the boats slip by. Dinner starts with hot bread and a generous dish of olive oil loaded with Parmesan and cracked pepper. Appetizers are mostly from the sea, side salads are nicely composed, and the mix of mains is ambitious enough to range from ribs and lamb chops to French dip sandwiches to Italian or seafood mainstays. The pasta choices are consistently excellent.
Ristorante Cafe Cortina 30715 W. 10 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-474-3033; cafecortina.com; $$$$: Perhaps because of its somewhat off-the-beaten-track location, or maybe because the price structure has been higher than most other comparable restaurants, this place has never gotten much notice beyond its hard-core fans. The fresh pastas and veals, however, are the real thing and the setting — which aims for elegance — does help.
Roma Cafe 3401 Riopelle, Detroit; 313-831-5940; romacafe.com; $$: Detroiters really ciao down. One hundred years old and counting. Veal parmigiana to sautéed perch. Amazing garlic bread and even better lasagna. Most coveted tables are in the bar and main floor dining room. On a Saturday night, don't go to Roma without a reservation.
Roman Village 9924 Dix Rd., Dearborn; 313-842-2100; $$: Despite a few jarring notes, this is the real deal — house-made pasta, fresh sauces, traditional dishes at reasonable prices; you can imagine somebody's mama in the kitchen. The menu is much too long to do justice to — there are calzone, panini and pizza as well as 53 entrées, including veal, stuffed pastas and seafood. Highest praise must go to spaghetti carbonara "alla Bocelli," ossobuco and gnocchi Rita. Other possibilities range from linguine arrabbiata to linguine with shrimp, scallops and whitefish through veal chops, veal piccata and sautéed cod (baccala). And yes, you can add meatballs to any of the pasta dishes. The other special deal is a free cannoli on your birthday.
Tre Monti Ristorante 1695 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-1100; tremontitroy.com; $$: For a mini-state with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants, San Marino has made a lot of history. Founded in 301, it is the oldest republic in the world; its 400-year-old written constitution claims another longevity record, and its citizens once elected a government dominated by their communist party. But with the Tre Monti Ristorante behind the San Marino Club on Big Beaver just west of John R, Detroiters now have an opportunity to sample its venerable culture and cuisine.
Via Nove 344 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-336-9936; vianoverestaurant.com; $$: Three soups, seven pasta choices, and dinner comes with crusty focaccia, brushed with butter and dotted with herbs. Veal, salmon, chicken and filet mignon make up most of the entrées, and they're prepared in ways that go beyond the ordinary. Open Tuesday through Saturday. Full bar, nice selection of Italian and California wine. Closed Mondays.
Special thanks to editorial interns Aaron Mondry and Ally Levise for their assistance compiling this column.
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