Endless Options in Delaware to Satisfy Italian Cravings, Part I
Neighborhood pizzerias and 1,500-bottle wine cellars at your service.
There are so many good ethnic restaurants in Delaware that a comprehensive guide would fill an issue, so we’re offering it online. Here are some old and new favorites to consider the next time you get a yen for global flavor. Installment 4 of dining writer Pam George’s epic roundup from the February issue of DT is Italian, Part I. You can’t shake a noodle without hitting an Italian restaurant—or two or three.
Bella Vista Trattoria & Pizzeria
Known for: Taking the neighborhood pizzeria up a notch.
Insider tip: Owner Candace Roseo uses a meat slicer to make quarter-inch slices of eggplant that she cooks individually. It’s only when you order eggplant Parmesan that the kitchen adds the marinara sauce and cheese and pops it in the oven. Sfogliatella, filled shell-shaped pastries, are baked to order, and the fragrant extract is imported right from Italy. 5337B Limestone Road, Wilmington, 239-4858; 3 S. Orange St., Wilmington Riverfront, 652-1010, bellavistatrattoria.com
Known for: The best slice in Concord Mall or in all of Brandywine Hundred for that matter. (It’s the mall’s oldest tenant, says owner Michael J. Tumolo.)
Insider tip: Linguini Sinatra, made with chopped shrimp and clams in fra diavolo sauce, is served on “Fridays with Frank,” but you can order this tribute to Old Blue Eyes any day. Surprise, counter customers: There’s a full bar in the back. Concord Mall, Wilmington, 478-8288, caferivierade.com
Known for: A rebirth. Founder Don Scalessa ran the restaurant from 2002 to 2011, sold it and reopened a year later.
Insider tip: Ask Scalessa to explain the story behind orecchiette with escarole, a simple but tasty dish once popular among peasants. His butter cake, meatballs and “Sunday gravy sauce” are legendary. 504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955, cafescalessa.com
Known for: A 1,500-bottle wine cellar, 24 daily flavors of gelato, artisan pasta and northern Italian specialties.
Insider tip: Ravioli is made in-house, and creative takes include roasted butternut squash with sautéed mushrooms in a sage-brown butter sauce. Seafood lovers can tuck into mussels sautéed with garlic, pancetta and green onions and finished with a creamy white wine sauce. 90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811, caffegelato.net
Capers & Lemons
Known for: Bringing a restaurant and market to a culinary dead zone along Del. 41 between Wilmington and Hockessin.
Insider tip: Go pasta-less with eggplant “lasagna,” layered eggplant with seasoning, ricotta, tomato sauce and fresh basil. The kitchen wraps tender beef around spicy capicola, bathes it with tomato sauce and serves it with creamy polenta to produce the C&L braciole. In season, try roasted corn agnolotti, made with Pete’s Farm corn, rock shrimp and a white wine-butter sauce. “Customers call ahead and reserve up to 10 orders of it,” says owner Carl Georigi of the summery dish. 301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524, platinumdininggroup.com/capers_and_lemons
DiFebo’s Modern Italian Grill
Known for: More than 20 years of serving Italian favorites in Bethany Beach.
Insider tip: Pasta dishes—ravioli, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni—are sumptuous on their own. But add the house red sauce, created by owner Lisa DiFebo’s father, and you have a signature DiFebo’s dish. DiFebo also features her grandmother’s slightly sweet, seasoned ravioli. Vacationers know about the family-style to-go menu, trays of sandwiches, salads, cheeses and other noshes for beachside parties and picnics. 789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4550, difebos.com
Frankie’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: A showman’s attitude. Picture the Rat Pack setting up camp in a neighborhood red gravy house, which happens to be in a casino, and you get the drift.
Insider tip: On Mondays, get half-priced pizza at the bar and on Tuesdays, dig into “endless pasta” night. Customers also come to Frankie’s just for the osso buco, which isn’t on the regular menu. Lasagna is made with both pork and beef. Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, 1131 N. Dupont Hwy., 857-3775, doverdowns.com/dining/restaurants/Frankies
La Casa Pasta
Known for: Anchoring the Italian food scene in Newark since 1978, when Giuseppe Martuscelli, who grew up near Salerno, opened the restaurant.
Insider tip: Start with tempura-fried calamari, shrimp and sea bass—marinated in olive oil, lemon and garlic—then move on to veal saltimbocca, lobster ravioli or fusilli Santa Maria—shrimp, scallops, garlic and crabmeat in a light tomato sauce. The catch of the day is served Sicilian style with garlic, lemon, olive oil, capers and peppers. 120 Four Seasons Pkwy., Newark, 738-9935, lacasapasta.com
Known for: A 16-year-old landmark, the restaurant was purchased by an enterprising UD student, Ian MacFayden, just last year. (He’s majoring in marketing.)
Insider tip: Chicken Parmesan is the leading dish, but chicken or veal Abruzzi is a close second and third. Everything is fresh and made in-house, including MomMom Winnie’s wedding soup, MacFayden says. The crab cakes also win raves. Don’t miss the tiramisu when it’s available. 1300 Centerville Road, Wilmington, 995-6955, lambertiscucina.com
Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities
Known for: Serving as Little Italy’s primary cheerleader since the restaurant opened in 1988.
Insider tip: The restaurant for 13 months celebrated its milestone anniversary with an original menu and original prices. This year, Brooklyn-born Luigi Vitrone is debuting a new menu that will showcase milk-fed veal and seafood dishes. 415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822
Known for: Some of the best cuisine in the state, it’s the place for those celebrating a special occasion. Friends meet at the bar for a well-executed nosh and craft cocktail in a refined yet relaxed environment. Insider tip: Share a “board” of vegetables, Italian cheeses, cured meats or an antipasti (a mix of all of the above). Go for a medley of small plates (carbonara mac & cheese or sheep’s ricotta ravioli) or head right to the large plate section (grilled pork chops with a blue cheese-potato gratin, spicy broccoli rabe and onion demi-glace.) Don’t get too attached to any one dish. Chef-owner Michael DiBianca likes to experiment. 1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800, mororestaurant.net
Madeline’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: Food that Nonna used to make.
Insider tip: Fifty years after the restaurant opened, veal spezzata still tops the charts. “We buy the best quality veal,” says owner Steve Sparco. When the lobster bisque hits the specials list, it quickly sells out. Waffling between ravioli and spaghetti? Get half of each. Roast pork isn’t on the menu, but it’s available most days. 531 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 652-9373, madelinesitalianrestaurant.com
Mrs. Robino’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: Dishing up red gravy-style comfort food since 1940, when Mrs. Tresilla Robino served the Italian immigrants who lined up at her door for her food. She served one group then ushered in the next. The Little Italy restaurant has been family-owned ever since.
Known for: Spaghetti and ravioli. (On Wednesday nights, kids 10 and under get spaghetti for 99 cents.) Sample the best of the best with the “Tour of Italy”: meatballs, sausage, spaghetti, and meat and cheese ravioli. Lasagna is hand-rolled and layered with cheese and meat. 520 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-9223, mrsrobinos.com