Search out warm, authentic Italian cuisine from our local standouts.
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Why Italian Will Never Go Away
Italian food is arguably the most universally loved cuisine—at least in the United States. “It’s the history, the passion, the flavors,” says Luigi Vitrone, of Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities. “People love fresh herbs and garlic and olive oil, wonderful wines, exceptional cheeses. Should I go on?”
In Italy, the line has blurred between casual and fancy. In Delaware, there’s still a difference. Trattorias, warm and casual family-run operations, are ubiquitous in Wilmington’s Little Italy and beyond. More formal restaurants operate statewide. Many serve a combination of Northern and Southern Italian dishes because, as many culinary experts agree, Delaware has Americanized its Italian offerings.
As a rule, northern cuisine uses more butter, cream, polenta, mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses, risotto and fresh egg pasta. The south favors the tomato and olive oil, as well as mozzarella, cacciacavallo and pecorino cheeses.
But getting back to why we love Italian food, it’s pretty simple. Delaware’s mom and pop Italian restaurants are places where families serve families. Owners cook for you like they cook at home. It boils down to warmth, authenticity and flavor—things chain restaurants can’t duplicate.
Adriatico Ristorante & Café
22 Midway Shopping Center, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9255
30 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 645-6160
“From our kitchen to you with love” is the first thing patrons read on the menu at Adriatico Ristorante & Café. The declaration matches the family-friendly spot. The Midway location has breezy yellow walls, a large poster of Frank Sinatra and lots of family photographs. The downtown Rehoboth classic is as cozy and homey as only a family place can be. Adriatico has wowed an intergenerational mix of patrons since 1976 and has earned a good reputation for veal, seafood, chicken and pasta specialties. We’d recommend the salsiccia alla peperonata (sausage with peppers and tomatoes—ordered hot) and the old-fashioned eggplant alla Parmigiana, and Adriatico’s fantastic espresso martinis.
1007 Orange St., Wilmington. 658-7050
A framed photograph of the glorious Sophia Loren greets diners the moment they enter Café Mezzanotte. That’s important. Not only does chef and owner Sergio Pellegrino adore the Italian goddess, his restaurant epitomizes her sophisticated yet approachable style. From the beige wallpaper patterned with fleur de lis to the velvety green upholstered chairs to the iced-glass sconces, the restaurant is casually chic, like Sophia, and its classy bar shakes the best martinis in town. Café Mezzanotte is a great choice for seafood, especially the Chilean sea bass and grilled salmon. Monthly wine tastings with the café’s sommelier are worth a few pours, too.
Café Napoli Restaurant & Pizzeria
4391 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 999-7553
Locals may come to Café Napoli for pizza and beer, but they usually end up ordering wine and excellent baked ziti, which is loaded with ricotta and mozzarella and baked with spicy marinara. Here’s another spot where eggplant Parmigiana is the real deal, though the top seller is tortellini alla boscaiola (ham and mushroom in a pink cream sauce). Napoli’s real surprise is the scungilli salad: a tangy blend of conch, fresh lemon, garlic and olive oil. Ask for extra garlic.
3612 Miller Road, Wilmington, 762-5818
Want to know where Senator Carper hangs out? Check out Café Palermo. Don’t overlook this little trattoria in the Home Depot strip mall on an unremarkable section of Miller Road. In August the café assumed new leadership, bringing together the team of Michel Colondria, Brian Aglim and Rose Conte. The spruced-up café now attracts lots of locals. It’ll be difficult to pass up the hot, buttery garlic rolls, but save room for our top pick: Palermo’s zuppa di pesci, which is packed with fresh seafood and can be prepared with marinara sauce or garlic white wine sauce. We prefer the latter, made with Franzia wine, fresh basil and visible chunks of garlic. If there were a customer service trophy, Café Palermo would nab it.
4737 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-8288
Owner Michael Tumolo calls the family restaurant “a glorified pizzeria.” Sorry, Mr. Tumolo, but Riviera is much more. So let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes, Café Riviera operates inside Concord Mall, but it is not a mall-type food operation, nor is it a chain. Riviera’s house Italian dressing is the best we’ve tasted anywhere. The fettuccini Sofia Loren (scallops, prosciutto and peas in Aurora sauce) is second to none. Italian sausage and broccoli rabe is like Grandmom’s. Pasta and ravioli are homemade. Pizza toppings, like prosciutto and sirloin steak, are inventive. And the restaurant caters throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And the fact that Macy’s is under the same roof doesn’t hurt.
504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955
From the rust-colored walls and crisp white tablecloths to the GoodFellas poster, Café Scalessa’s starts at lovers lane then goes clubbing. Scalessa’s, in fact, is one of the few places to pop the question early, then rock out with your future mate later. In the late hours, televisions air Italian-themed movies on mute, sports play at the bar, and music pounds, followed by a light show and dancing. And there’s food, too. The café turns out great pasta, sausage and chicken dishes, plus a terrific cannoli. There’s no set menu, but if rockfish happens to be a special, you’re golden.
Page 2: More great Italian favorites