Saturday, July 16, 2011

Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza, 654 Stocking NW - 7/7/11

A long-standing, neighborhood favorite, Salvatore’s was opened in 1976 by Sicilian immigrants, Salvatore and Vincenza Tinervia. Today the restaurant is still owned by their descendants and extended family members.
Upon entry, one is greeted by a lovely outdoor patio on your right (not open today), and a buffet directly in front of you. There are two dining rooms divided by a small bar, which seats only at the bar. At lunchtime just the front dining room is open. The large room held five booths each along two walls and about ten tables filled out the rest of the space. The decor is a little dated with too many fake flowers and plants but overall, it's a casual and friendly atmosphere. 
It was packed when we arrived and we soon figured out why. Everyone was bellying up to the $7.50 lunch buffet. You may eat to your heart’s content from a salad and pizza bar that also includes a pasta selection, various meat and vegetable entrees, and a soft drink.

The full menu was presented to us but only the lunch page was available (lunch menu is not online). The owners are pushing people to the lunch buffet and it makes good economic sense; it just isn’t our preference. We didn’t see any appetizers on the lunch page but upon questioning, our server informed us we could order garlic bread, garlic bread with cheese, bruschetta, or bread sticks. Since garlic bread comes with the entrees, the only logical choice was bruschetta.

Unfortunately, a few minutes later our server returned to tell us it was unavailable because they were baking the necessary bread that wouldn’t be ready for sometime. (The restaurant had been closed for the long holiday weekend.) Although we were disappointed, we respected the fact that they make their food fresh.
So we started with the house salads, simple but good. Iceberg lettuce with a small scattering of croutons, tomatoes, and cucumbers, a wedge of onion, two slices of pepperoni, and the house-made, slightly sweet, Italian dressing on the side. 

We both chose from the pasta list for our entrees, Lasagne and Chicken Alfredo. The Lasagne came out too hot to eat (oven, not microwave) and drowning in sauce but did we enjoy both dishes. Pasta was not over-cooked and the alfredo was balanced and nicely presented; it was decent, home-made food. Our server was overly attentive but that’s better than neglect.  

You won’t find anything particularly innovative or unusual but you will find a down-home, friendly, local restaurant. It reminded us of Tillman’s (but in an Italian way) where neighborhood people gather to enjoy food, beverages, and company. Neither place claims anything else, and as befitting their antiquity, you won’t find them on twitter or facebook (update: Tillman’s is now on fb :).
Salvatore's Italian Restaurant Pizza & Sports on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ramona’s Table, 2232 Wealthy, East Grand Rapids - 6/27/11

Walk into the restaurant and you are greeted by a menu board on your left, and a counter straight ahead. A first-time visit to this style of restaurant is always a little confusing and a few minutes are needed to sort out the procedure. We were disappointed it was an order-at-the-counter restaurant but we were glad we stayed.

A host noticed our hesitation and immediately provided us with menus and pointed out the specials on the wall. That was a nice touch. Usually we are left to flounder until we sort it out. There was no one in line behind us so we could take a few moments to scan the board and the menu.

The woman taking our order was friendly but business-like and told us our order would be out shortly, and asked us to take a seat. Luckily there was one table still open. Unfortunately, it was right in the middle of the dining area, and the noise volume was unbelievably loud.
The room holds about twelve tables and they are fairly close together. The wood paneled walls and hard wood floor are nice to look at but don’t absorb any sound. In general, the atmosphere is modern and clean, and old black and white photos dot the walls. A fireplace is featured along with an outdoor patio. In nice weather, the patio probably more than doubles their seating space.

Without appetizers to choose from, we both started out with the soup of the day, white bean chicken chili soup - lovely to look at and better to eat. It was nicely seasoned and not over salted.
Before we were finished, our sandwiches arrived, neatly presented in round metal trays with a paper lining. Out of the many interesting sandwich offerings, our first pick was the Derby Racer. Tender roast beef and melted cheddar cheese arrived on a french roll with grilled onions, tomatoes, and horse radish sauce. The horse radish was perfectly proportioned for this excellent sandwich.
All items are accompanied by either kettle chips, cole slaw, a deli salad, or redskin potatoes, all house-made. We didn’t take the time to examine the displayed deli salads and took the redskin potatoes for the Derby Racer and the cole slaw for our second sandwich, the Adult Grilled Cheese. Both sides were satisfactory but the seasoned potatoes were a standout.  

Aged cheddar, provolone, and American cheese make up the Adult Grilled Cheese sandwich and it was topped with fresh tomatoes (not sure where they’re coming from “fresh” this time of year) on San Francisco sourdough bread. It’s not for the fat-calculating, cholesterol-watching diner but it was cheesy-delicious.
The aforementioned host was ever-present and as the place cleared out we could finally hear each other speak. These are obviously hard-working restaurant people with plans afoot, according to their website, for an expansion.

Your visit won’t be a fine dining experience but it could be with their catering and pairing with Martha’s Vineyard for private parties. They emphasize locally produced ingredients and house-made food, and are ecologically savvy; our leftovers came in a paper bag. Open for breakfast and with a creative menu all around, the restaurant is worthy of your attention.
You can like or follow them on facebook and twitter, respectively.
Ramona's Table on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grill One Eleven, 111 Courtland, Rockford - 6/15/11

We missed it on our first drive-by but found it on the back end off the parking lot. Look for Marinades Pizza on Courtland and you might see the Grill sign as well. But no matter; they share ownership and entrances.
We spotted the second floor outdoor patio from the parking lot. When we entered the restaurant the hostess asked us to seat ourselves, indicating the first floor. We inquired about upstairs but she informed us that it was “pretty full up there.” As she spoke, a couple descended the stairs and we mentioned that fact.

She then said it may take a few minutes to clean up and she headed upstairs. A short while later she reluctantly led us up where we found two tables occupied inside, and one outside on the patio. It was almost empty! With her subterfuge exposed, she did not reappear.  
The restaurant is not big but both floors are nicely appointed, warm and comfortable. The first floor features an attractive bar and the second story has sofas along with table seating and the patio. Our server made up for the hostess as he was very personable  and friendly.
The menu is seasonal and includes a comprehensive martini and wine list. Beer is available as well but is not on the menu, printed or on-line.

We started with the Three Happiness Spring Rolls: marinated chicken, roasted portabella, onions, bell peppers, and savoy cabbage neatly wrapped in crispy wontons. They were beautifully presented and were well balanced and delicious. Of the two sauces, we preferred the soy plum peanut sauce over the spicy mustard but concluded that if the plum sauce wasn’t there, we would have been perfectly satisfied with the mustard sauce.
We bypassed the sandwiches and wraps because the list of main entrees was irresistible. The chef’s creative take on chicken wellington was our first item. Fresh mozzarella, roasted portabella and baby spinach were layered around the chicken breast, and a bacon wrapped pastry enclosed it all. The pastry was light and flaky and the tasty red pepper hollandaise sauce was a flavorful and necessary accompaniment; the dish would have been slightly dry without it.
The orange-glazed salmon was grilled to order, medium rare, and retained moisture and flavor but still easily broke apart. A lovely, fresh citrus salad topped it off for a perfectly balanced dish. We were both very satisfied with our selections and everything was finely presented.  
Our server disappeared for a while after our appetizer was delivered but was otherwise very helpful and knowledgeable. The menu is interesting and innovative, the setting is very pleasant, and it's just a 20-minute drive from Grand Rapids, and well worth your time. Find them on Facebook and Twitter.
Grill One Eleven on Urbanspoon