Amici's Pizza and Living Room 3249 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-544-4100; $$: This isn't your typical Italian eatery: Pizza crust made with bran, biodegradable dishes soy candles, no smoking, no TV — Amici's manages both to be virtuous and to pull it off without a hint of self-righteousness. It is a bar, after all, and it's hard to say whether patrons are more interested in the vegan pizzas — which include gluten-free options — or the 64 cocktails, 35 beers and 5 premium tequilas on offer.
Andiamo (multiple locations, including Dearborn, Detroit, Livonia, Novi, Rochester, Royal Oak and St. Clair Shores; see more at andiamoitalia.com; prices vary): Unquestioned master of the Best Italian Chain category, the many iterations of Andiamo's are part of an Italian chain, all right, but they have different styles and menus. Under the tutelage of Chef Aldo Ottaviani, the kitchen staff is trained to prepare the outstanding recipes that have sustained this operation and enabled its growth for the past 20 years.
Angelina Italian Bistro 1565 Broadway, at Grand Circus Park, Detroit; 313-962-1355; $$$: Both co-owners had Sicilian grandmothers, and both toiled in other people's restaurants before making their dream come true. The experience shows, with Italian food (and some extras) at “prices that reflect the new reality” — at least when it comes to the entrées and the wines. There are only three pasta dishes and three pizzas. The sophisticated Italian menu is supplemented by some dishes that would be comfortable on any menu, such as New York strip, salmon and a pork chop. See the menu and the drinks list at angelinadetroit.com.
Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro 330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3499; $$$: Open since May 2000, Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro has become a popular dining place, known for its attractive atmosphere and creative menu. Its Mediterranean dishes are influenced by Italian, French, Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines, including such items as wood-fired pizza, antipasti, sea bass and sea scallops with hand-rolled pasta. Owners George and Josie recommend first-timers try the lamb rack with pistachios and pine nuts. Full wine list, sangria and a full bar are available to accompany your lunch or dinner.
Bacco Ristorante 29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-358-0344; baccoristorante.com; $$$: Italian doesn't get any better than Bacco. The dining room is lavish and tasteful at once. It's open and spacious, while maintaining a sense of intimacy. The service is professional, provided by a knowledgeable staff that can describe every dish and its ingredients. A visit for a special occasion will not disappoint. Luciano Del Signore grew up in the restaurant business and has taken it to a new level.
Bucci Ristorante 20217 Mack, Grosse Pointe; 313-882-1044; $$: As Maxine's the modest surroundings were trumped by the terrific food. It was the kind of restaurant you weren't sure you wanted to talk about — maybe you wouldn't be able to get a table on a weekend evening. After a remodel four years ago, the restaurant is more elegant, spacious, comfortable and relaxing, but the most coveted seats are still the stools that pull up to the marble counter surrounding the open kitchen where diners can watch the theater that is cooking as an art.
Café Nini Da Edoardo 98 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-308-3120; $: With fresh ingredients and plenty of imports from the old country, the Barbieri family is attempting to re-create an Italian café in Grosse Pointe with Café Nini, the latest restaurant to bear the name Da Edoardo. They have Mokarabia coffee, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma and mortadella with pistachios — all that's lacking is a glass of wine to sip with the panini.
Cariera's 6565 Telegraph Rd., Dearborn Heights; 313-278-4060; $$: Charming little Italian restaurant with authentic Italian cuisine. Portions are big enough for two. In two cozy rooms, with bare wooden tables and thick cloth napkins and walls full of family photographs and wine and oil bottles, Cariera's turns out a familiar array of old-fashioned classics. The serviceable list of 20 California and Italian wines, split evenly between red and white, is fairly marked up. And the house wine is another option.
Compari's on the Park 350 S. Main St., Plymouth; 734-416-0100; $$: Outdoor dining here tends toward the teeming on a good summer night. Several tables stake out a generous portion of the downtown sidewalk during lunch or dinner, shaded beneath white umbrellas. The summer specials are still up in the air, but spring specials include beef tenderloin tip and a portobello spinach salad, a chicken-and-basil-pesto pizza, and a sautéed shrimp ziti primavera. Ownership is shared with the next-door steak and seafood restaurant, Fiamma Grille.
Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-3500; $$$: With this premier location, across from Comerica Park in the same gloriously restored building as the Fox Theatre, it's a natural destination for theatergoers. Most menu offerings are simple and grilled, including three steaks, lamb chops, veal chops or char-grilled tuna, as well as three other seafood choices and seven pastas. The rustica pizza and calamari appetizers are good for starters.
D'Amato's 222 S. Sherman Dr., Royal Oak; 248-584-7400; $$: Neighborhood Italian joint has eclectic and “from scratch” fare. A fresh Caesar or Caprese salad will run you $6, and a pizza with feta, grape tomatoes, roasted banana peppers, kalamata olives and more is $8. Tender, fluffy gnocchi of ricotta and spinach come surrounded with a rich sauce, and veal saltimbocca arrives on soft layers of rapini and gnocchi, resting in a silky Marsala sauce. There are many more beef, chicken and seafood entrées, and 30 glasses and 60 bottles of wine to wash them down. Limited Sunday hours; call for info.
Deliziosa 22439 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-277-4990; $$: Deliziosa features traditional Italian cuisine with a few unconventional twists. Considering the gargantuan portions, and that mains come with soup or salad, you might pass on the appetizers. The entrées include fillet portobello, salmon with lemon sauce, eggplant Parmesan, and chicken Marengo, Marsala, and piccata. There are no wild cards among the 13 diverse pasta dishes, unless you think risotto belongs in a category of its own.
Don Luciano's Place Trattoria 237B Dalhousie St., Amherstburg; 519-736-2917; $$: At Luciano's, you can sit outside by the water on the patio or inside. In addition to pasta, expect homemade sausage, penne topped with tomato sauce or fettuccini pescatore. Regular seafood offerings include trout, salmon, shrimp or whitefish, all prepared as you specify. Nothing here feels mass-produced. You can sense the touch of an individual human being — that's Luciano — in the kitchen. A perfect summer evening out.
Due Venti 220 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-288-0220; $$$: Emphasizing local produce and preparing everything from scratch, including the pasta, the owners have put together a brief but inventive menu that changes with the seasons. And, perhaps as important, all but one of their elegant mains are in the $17-$20 range. As for wine, their Michigan reds were competitive with house pours in many other establishments. The dessert list, which again reflects a complexity of ingredients, is highlighted by a beautiful blueberry tart.
Enoteca Campo Marzio 660 Woodward Ave., Detroit; $$: Seating just 50 in its cool subdued Italianate-accented room with a handsome marble bar and striking tall wooden tables, and with its nonstop Euro-tech background music, you can almost imagine that you are on the Via Veneto rather than on the bustling corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square facing the Compuware Building. Enoteca's kitchen is so tiny that it cannot stretch beyond its limited array of cheese, meats, soups, sandwiches and chocolates. You can order the wines and plates in “flights” or, if you just want to sip some decent wine, you can buy a glass ($6-$12) or a bottle in the $25-$40 range.
Europa Bistro 543 N. Main St., Rochester; 248-650-1390; $$: Although the entrées include a generous house salad or a cup of soup that might include an accomplished sweet French onion, it's hard to bypass the appetizers, which are large enough to share. With no entrée more expensive than $20, one should be able to afford this modest luxury. (Most fall into the $6-$8 range.) As for the wine with the main courses, there are a dozen well-selected modest vintages at $20 a bottle and a half-dozen from his “reserve” list, for big spenders, at $32. Warm weather permits dining on the adjacent terrace, where the gentle rippling of Paint Creek below complements well-chosen recorded jazz and Continental background music.
Franco's Cafe 3614 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-528-0153; $$: This neighborhood restaurant has been quietly turning out respectable meals for a generation or so from a prosaic strip mall on Rochester Road. In a simply decorated, dimly-lit room that seats 120, you can enjoy heavy red-sauced dishes with the pastas averaging around $13 and the other entrées around $18 including soup and salad. You can wash all of this down with reasonably priced wines, with the house pours going for $24 a liter.
Giulio's Cucina Italiana 31735 Plymouth Rd., Livonia; 734-427-9500; $$: The pizza is great, at least the “al pesto” variety. In fact, if you're seeking a good pizza pie, the fare here is far tastier than hitting the local chain, and far cheaper. Giulio's also offers four veal dishes — the usual three (Marsala, piccata, saltimbocca) plus a braised veal roast — and a couple of American-sounding steaks — New York strip and filet mignon.
Gratzi 326 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-6387; $$$: Each month the chef's specials star a different region of Italy, giving regulars plenty of reason to return. One of Gratzi's most popular offerings is the antipasti buffet, where a little sign informs you that the items are changed every three hours, for freshness. This seems unnecessary in a joint with pretensions to class, but never mind: the grilled vegetables; marinated olives and mushrooms; prosciutto, cappicola and sopressata make for hearty appetizers. An extensive wine list is Italian and American.
La Contessa 780 Erie St. E., Windsor; 519-252-2167; $$: The Italian menu is generous with options, including both tried-and-trues and some less-common selections. A few stand out, including the very rich rigatoni dello chef, with lots of black olives in a cream sauce, and tortellini Parigina, cunning little ears with ham and Parmesan in a cognac cream sauce. La Contessa is a pretty place to dine, and popular — so you should be prepared to wait.
La Dolce Vita 17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331; $$: Manager Dean Cicala describes La Dolce Vita as “a little hidden jewel that people are happy to find here.” Sometimes it is simplicity itself that makes a dish. Pasta dishes range from $12 to $19. Main courses include too many chicken options, too few veal, two beef, and only one fish option. Now that warm weather has settled in, the inviting courtyard awaits behind a wrought-iron fence for al fresco dining.
Little Italy Ristorante 227 Hutton Rd., Northville; 248-348-0575; $$: The food at Little Italy is splendid – standouts include calamari fritti and the eggplant appetizer, delicious sauces, heavenly zuppe de pesce and an exquisite raspberry sorbet and chocolate dessert called “Amore.” These thoughtfully prepared dishes are expertly served in a narrow, old, frame house. The small rooms have a romantic feel, so Amore would be a perfect ending to a dinner for two.
Loccino Italian Grill and Bar 5600 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-813-0700; $$: Loccino, which seats 275, is far more attractive than its pricey but staid predecessor, and it's also far more accessible as most entrées come in at under $20. Despite its relative elegance, the owners call it “family casual.” The chicken and veal preparations appear in comparable guises with veal $3 more than chicken. Loccino's chicken piccata with capers and mushrooms in a delicate lemon-wine sauce merits the local award it has won.
Luciano's 39091 Garfield Rd., Clinton Twp; 586-263-6540; $$: Located in the prosaic Gar-Pointe strip mall, Luciano's, which seats 200, is opulently decorated with elaborately carved pillars and arches, an artificial palm tree, and white-clothed tables and elevated booths in the main room and two private curtained booths in the bar. These surroundings, the Italian pop music that blares through the speakers, the liveried servers, and a festive air suggest that diners are attending a wedding. The char-broiled seafood platter ($22.95) which can satisfy four or more includes an especially lively marinated octopus salad with tomatoes, scallions, onions and red peppers.
Luigi's 36691 Jefferson Ave., Harrison Twp.; 586-468-7711; $$$: The somewhat kitschy setting of checkered tablecloth, faux grapevines and strings of small red and green lights don't prepare you for the quality of service. Whether you're dining in the dark and boisterous front room or the more sedate and well-lit back, you're sure to be impressed by the efficiency of the waitstaff. Of course, Luigi's offers typical Italian fare: various pasta dishes, ravioli, veal or chicken done in your choice of Parmesan, marsala or picatta. The menu veers further American with steaks, chops and the ubiquitous slab of baby back ribs.
Maggiano's Little Italy 2089 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-205-1060; $$$: 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 ($24.95) that include two huge platters each from an encyclopedic selection of appetizers, salads, pastas, entrées and desserts. 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; $$: After a troubled few years, which included a bankruptcy and a closing, a new management team, headed up by Dave Brown of nearby Nami Sushi, reopened the spot. Brown worked with the original family, bought all the old recipes, and the menu is about two-thirds the same classic cheese-laden, calories-be-damned Italian, rounded out by some new house specials.
Mario's Restaurant 4222 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-1616; $$$: 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; 519-252-4055; $$: A good, stylish restaurant in the center of the Via Italia, Windsor's Erie Street Italian strip. The ambitious food varies from pretty good to great. The meal starts with a thoughtful touch, a “tasting” of a complimentary morsel from the chef. The chef's wild mushroom soup is a supberb puree of portobello, porcini and oyster mushrooms. Lobster is paired with crab in the delightful housemade ravioli with a Pernod-flavored sauce.
Moro's Dining 6535 Allen Rd., Allen Park; 313-382-7152; $$$: Moro's is somewhat of a time-warp -- including the fact that they offer old-fashioned (tuxedoed) professional service. Most entrées cost around $14 and include everything from soup to nuts. Owner Thomas Moro butchers his own veal, the specialty of the house included in 10 different dishes.
Pasta Fagioli 2398 Franklin Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-332-1111; $$: A modest place in a suburban strip mall, it doesn't have the most extensive menu, or the cheapest prices, but what's there is very good. These classic dishes can be found in most Italian eateries, but here they are just a little bit better. Ravioli, made fresh daily, is served with a bright orange palomino sauce that comes from mixing tomato sauce with cream. The same sauce appears on the gnocchi cappricciosa — perfect little potato dumplings, light as pillows, which the sauce doesn't overwhelm.
Portofino 3455 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte; 734-281-6700; $$$: 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 po' boy 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; $$$$: Perhaps because of its somewhat off-the-beaten-track location, or maybe because the price structure has been higher than most other comparable restaurants, this place has never gotten much notice beyond its hard-core fans. The fresh pastas and veals, however, are the real thing and the setting — which aims for elegance — does help.
Roma Cafe 3401 Riopelle, Detroit; 313-831-5940; $$: Detroiters really ciao down. One hundred years old and counting. Veal parmigiana to sauteed 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; $$: Despite a few jarring notes, this is the real deal — house-made pasta, fresh sauces, traditional dishes at reasonable prices; you can imagine somebody's mama in the kitchen. The menu is much too long to do justice to — there are calzone, panini and pizza as well as 53 entrées, including veal, stuffed pastas and seafood. Highest praise must go to spaghetti carbonara “alla Bocelli, “ osso buco and gnocchi Rita. And we hear you'll get a free a cannoli on your birthday!
Tre Monti Ristorante 1695 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-1100; $$: 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; $$: Three soups, eight pasta choices, and dinner comes with crusty focaccia, brushed with butter and dotted with herbs. Veal, shrimp, salmon, sole, chicken and filet mignon make up most of the entrées, and they're prepared in ways that go beyond the ordinary. Open daily except Monday. Full bar, nice selection of Italian and California wines.
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