Wow, so it’s been a while since we have written on this blog. That’s shameful, to say the least, being as we taut ourselves as foodies, food bloggers and food podcasters. Well, we DO do a lot of food podcasting. At least in that, we have done well.
So the focus of this post is a quaint little family-owned Italian nook called DiLisio’s Italian Restaurant. It is located at 301 Brookstown Ave. Suite 100 in Winston-Salem. That space is right across the breezeway from Twin City Hive (which is home to the new Haute Chocolate and Revolution Gliding Tours and the new coffee shop), in fact they did a combined grand opening just recently. That location probably sounds familiar to most Winston-Salemites – at least those familiar with downtown – as the space where the much-beloved Mary’s Of Course Cafe was located. Probably more comments than not are “I’ve not been here since it was Mary’s.” Even more recent was the ill-fated Screaming Rooster and before Mary’s it was Penny University, a coffee shop. This location has some culinary history.
In showing our laziness in the writing area we’ll give the disclaimer that this is not our first time eating here. Nor is it our second, or third, or… we get it! We’ve been slack (but we did talk about it on Tart & Tangy Triad podcast). But, let’s push that out of the way, let’s get to the business at hand.
DiLisio’s is the baby (they have two daughters, this is a dream baby) of Antonio DiLisio, or as we call him, TONY, and his beautiful wife, Maria. They have surrounded themselves with a serving corps that makes the experience more like you’re at a neighbor’s house than a restaurant. Jade and Dannie, just two of the corps, are the ones we’ve gotten to know more than others and they make you feel not only welcome, but truly “at home.” They knowledgeably answer questions, not only about the food, but the wine list, desserts, vision of the DiLisios and even silly questions that Tim throws at them. Maria sometimes waits on tables and does some of bussing work, much of the less glamorous work, but where she truly shines is in being the front-of-house. Her wonderful smile sets the patrons in the mood of a welcoming home-away-from-home. Can you tell that we really enjoy the team? Tony pats Tim on the belly every time he’s in and calls him Pavarotti (yes, just like THAT Pavarotti) and Tim picks him up and spins him around like a toy. They love each other.
Now, to the “meat” of the situation – after all this is a food blog.
What you do get at DiLisio’s is food that is made with passion. Tony has a hard time letting anyone else cook for him. He puts his heart and soul in every dish that a fork may touch. Flavors provide the explosion; taste buds dancing. Even spaghetti, that can be plain, is never plain once it has been given the Tony treatment. And the DiLisios are actually Italian, as in FROM Italy, so they know Italian flavor. Ok, we know, you can’t taste words, so let’s talk about specifics of the menu.
We mentioned the lack of pizazz on the menu (at least on paper), but what this menu is, is extensive. Appetizers including calamari, caprese salad, bruschetta, fried mozzarella, fried ravioli and an antipasto plate just to name a few items; the menu is more capacious than that. Tim likes to test a restaurant’s meddle by how they do calamari. The first trip, we tried it and we knew we found a good eatery. It was golden squid magic and tasty.
The salad menu is home to eight salads and yes, that does include the house, chef and Caesar staples (along with the fried or grilled chicken over them) that you’d expect. But, add the spinach and salmon and the grilled seafood salads and that’s a pretty good selection of green stuff. Their dressing choices are good, too: balsamic vinaigrette, honey mustard, Italian (of course), Thousand Island, and then some; don’t forget oil and vinegar if that’s your thing. Their pasta, baked or entree, and specialty dishes all have house or Caesar sides. If salads are your thing, while the others around you are eating the heartier stuff then you’ll have plenty of options.
As we mentioned, it’s Italian as you’d expect: spaghetti with house sauce, spaghetti with meatballs or sausage, penne in a variety of styles and toppings, and several ravioli options including lobster. Also, there are baked dishes, such as: chicken or veal parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, manicotti, stuffed shells, ziti, baked spaghetti, and gnocchi sorrento. We’re not just breezing through these, you should definitely try them, Tim strongly suggests the veal parm. Yummy!
Perhaps the best section of the menu, though, is the chicken, veal, and seafood section. You get to choose your favorite protein such as chicken, veal, shrimp, salmon, mussels, clams, or lobster tail, then choose your style and Tony works his magic. Those styles include marsala, pizzaiola, marinara or its wicked brother Fra Diavolo (Tim’s favorite), cacciatore, a chardonay sauce, scampi, picatta, or toscano. Tim says this is the gem of the menu. You can get side items such as sautéed spinach, sautéed broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, side meatballs, and side sausage. Those can go with any dish.
We decided to take a few friends of ours, the Priests, owners of Krankie’s Airstream and Coffee Park, to the restaurant to introduce their mini-foodie (shout out to Marley Priest!) this weekend and even had a food allergy in the group (no cheese or butter) and Tony was able to work around that and come out sparkling. Also, one of the group members doesn’t really eat anything outside of the regular child fare (she’s eight); so chicken tenders and fries for her. Mini-foodie had eggplant parmigiana while her dad had the Penne with sausage and fungi and her mom had the Penne al Pesto. Stephanie had Clams Picatta and Tim had a special: Lobster a la Tony (see the picture to the right)! It was lobster tails, clams, and mussels all cooked with a cherry tomato wine sauce. The consensus among the group was this was an amazing meal. The sauce with the special popped of the wine and seafood. There was a good marriage of the flavors and Tim thought it was a clever inclusion for the night. So maybe you can step out of the box in Italian food. Tony DiLisio can.
If we were going to pick anything negative it would be that the beer selection is mostly American and the import selection is Heineken and Peroni, which if Tim going to have Italian, he certainly wants a Peroni, but he thinks the selection could grow a bit. But, most don’t think beer with Italian, they think vino, and that they have a great selection. Some have also complained that the interior is kind of plain, but a homestyle restaurant needs time to grow and like a well-seasoned pan, it needs time to accumulate style and memories. Trinkets and artwork don’t make a good restaurant, that will come. Food and great people, make a good restaurant. This is a good restaurant. Correction: This is a great restaurant!
When you’re in the mood for your next great Italian meal, or in the mood for something different from what you’re already used to, we highly recommend DiLisio’s Italian Restaurant. Chopsticks: 4.25.