On the Table: Del Pietro’s

After opening six successful contemporary Italian spots, Michael Del Pietro has revived his family’s traditional-style restaurant, which operated on Hampton Avenue for decades. The menu includes many old favorites (does Italian food ever go out of style?), and the pricing is reasonable, especially for a location so close to Clayton’s high-end dining scene.

Del Pietro has taken the onetime Harvest locale and given it a sleeker look, with mirrors along one wall and a wide-open, cavernous main dining room. The bar occupies the front, which once was a ‘veranda room’ lined with windows.

A starter of Fritto Misto ($9) was excellent with a mix of calamari and shrimp flash-fried with an impressive dry coating. A drizzle of lemon aioli completed the treat. Note: It’s a small portion suitable for two at most. Same for the Melanzana Parmigiana ($6), aka eggplant parm, which is somewhat nontraditional. It comes as a ‘torta’ of layered Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and eggplant rounds instead of cheese-topped, sliced eggplant. In flavor it was excellent, with a slightly spicy, basil-laden red sauce. However, the tomato took up valuable real estate in an already small eggplant dish.

The Cavolfiore ($8), roasted cauliflower florets, was delicious, with a light coating of either flour or fine crumbs and lots of lemon flavor. The florets were slightly browned and well-cooked to bring out maximum flavor. Our salads were terrific, especially at $5. The Del Pietro had a mix of lettuces, red onion, red wine vinaigrette and provolone cheese—very satisfying. The Caesar was traditional and tasty. A contemporary addition, Tri Colore ($7), also was good, with peppery arugula, endive and radicchio tempered by red wine vinaigrette and beautiful, thick ribbons of parmigiano cheese.

Do not miss the Pasta Bolognese ($17). This staple of Italian food is delicious here, made with housemade noodles, ground beef and veal, tomato chunks and a light touch of cream. It was rich and fulfilling on every count. Also good was the Gambero Grigliato ($22), breaded and grilled shrimp arranged around a mound of vermicelli and arugula. The shrimp, large ones, were lightly flavored with olive oil, lemon and garlic and had a distinctive char flavor, complete with grill marks.

Although not much in favor these days, veal remains a staple on traditional Italian menus. Del Pietro’s offers two veal dishes, and I had the Vitello Marsala ($18). The sauce was good and went especially well with the thin vermicelli on the plate. However, the veal, while tender, had gristly sections, making it awkward to eat. Our fish of the day, snapper ($24), was tasty but a little overdone. It was simply cooked with garlic and lemon and came with fresh sautéed spinach.

There is a tempting dessert menu, including Almond Cake ($6) from Hank’s next door, our choice. Drizzled with caramel sauce, it was buttery and delicious.

amuse bouche
the scene | Contemporary, family-friendly restaurant
the prices | $5-$10 starters, $16-$26 entrees, $9-$18 pastas
the chef/restaurateur | Michael Del Pietro
the favorites | Melanzana Parmigiana, Fritto Misto, Pasta Bolognese, Cavolfiore

food • ŏ • lō • gy
bolognese | A meat sauce native to Italy’s Bologna region, it mixes pork with veal or beef and is simmered slowly with tomatoes, wine and milk to yield a thick sauce for broad, flat noodles.
radicchio | The leafy part of the chicory plant has a bitter, spicy flavor that lessens when cooked. Italians often serve the leaves grilled.
vermicelli | Round, long noodles that are thinner than spaghetti in the U.S., but thicker than it in Italy!

Pictured above: Pollo grigliato: grilled, marinated chicken breast with grilled vegetables and balsamic glaze
Photo: Bill Barrett