“Cooking runs in the family,” says head chef Vito Cangemi of Olio’s Bistro & Cuisine. He’s referring to a childhood spent watching his aunt, also a chef, work her culinary magic in his hometown of Palermo, Italy. As a result, Vito relies on family recipes that he states are “straight from Sicily." The menu proves as much with its mottle of pasta, chicken, seafood, steak, and subs. Vito whips up everything from scratch, including his signature dish, penne alla Vito—chicken, shrimp, spinach, and cherry tomatoes in a light sauce. Of course, no Italian meal would be complete without a pour from the wine list and a hand-puppet rendition of the Aeneid.
The menu at Ruggero’s offers a wide variety of Italian favorites: bruschetta, fettuccine alfredo, veal parmigiana, baked manicotti, chicken marsala, shrimp scampi, pizza, calzones, and seven varieties of lasagna. Of course, the selection wouldn’t be complete without the country’s signature desserts making an appearance. Chefs pump cannolis with bavarian cream, slice espresso-flavored pieces of tiramisu, and serve spumoni—an Italian-style ice-cream cake with a nougat center.
Waiters bring this bounty of Italian food out to an elegant carpeted dining area where framed art hugs swirling green wallpaper. Wide sconces blend their photons with the ones coming in through the front wall’s windows, and a fireplace casts warmth on guests. Adjacent to a row of padded booths stands a full bar, rife with liquor and enough sleekly stained wood cabinets to make Paul Bunyan cry an actual river.
A brick oven imbues each of Luigi’s Restaurant’s pizzas with a distinct flavor and crispy crust. Chefs adorn these bubbling hot discs with 20 toppings that range from veggies such as jalapeños and mushrooms to meaty morsels of hamburger and pepperoni. They also handcraft their own spinach ravioli, meatballs, soups, lasagna, and abstract finger paintings. Servers deliver these lovingly prepared meals to tables, which populate an intimate dining room decorated with framed photographs.
Edoardo Barbieri's love of cooking began during a time of war. As an Italian soldier in World War II, he was captured by Allied forces and imprisoned in a series of prisoner-of-war camps in the United States. The young soldier was assigned to the mess hall, and he quickly realized a knack for the culinary arts. When the war ended, he returned to northern Italy and married his fiancée, but it wasn't long before America began calling him back. Edoardo and his wife immigrated to the States, where he soon opened a number of acclaimed Italian restaurants. As his family and business both grew, his son and grandchildren eventually joined the cause, creating a restaurant chain run by three generations of the Barbieri family.
At Da Edoardo North, the flavors and aromas of northern Italian cuisine vie for attention with lakeside scenery visible through the dining room's floor-to-ceiling windows. Executive chef Eddie Barbieri, who is also Eduardo's grandson, creates pastas and sauces from scratch with the family's time-honored recipes, pairing them with morsels of shrimp, veal, or pork chops seared to a tender finish. Individually sized pizzas bear the traditional toppings of prosciutto or Italian sausage, and the ample wine list proffers a selection of more than 100 varietals, many by the bottle. Diners can even bring a gourmet meal home with the restaurant's grab 'n' go option, which makes for a more convenient Italian meal than standing beneath a Sicilian construction crew at break time.
Every day inside Guerrazzi's kitchen, members of the Guerrazzi family are hard at work prepping their housemade pizzas, pastas, and sauces; it’s a job they’ve perfected over more than a decade. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all of which diners can enjoy at freestanding tables or cushy booths inside a dining room flooded with the natural light that pours through the atrium. Three banquet rooms play host to events, with enough room to house groups of 20–200 people or seven Paul Bunyans.
When searching for their lab partner, a Michigan State student might first check the dorms. The safe second option is Georgio's Pizza. The Lansing staple doles out gourmet, hand-tossed pies whole or by the slice until 3 a.m. on many evenings, following the sage business model that brought the family-owned business from Greece—settle in a college town and feed the masses. Today, more than 50 New York–style pizzas populate menus at three Georgio's locations.
The pizzas' toppings run the gamut from traditional cheese and pepperoni to creative combinations such as barbecue chicken and tortellini or eggplant and tomato. Like many forms of deep-sea pizza, Georgio's pies often disguise themselves as a different food—a taco, perhaps, or a baked potato, complete with chives, bacon, cheese, and sour cream—in a short-sighted attempt to avoid being eaten by predators. In his review for Michigan Live, Troy Reimink remarks that Georgio's served "the most interesting and tasty slices I've wolfed down in recent memory, although I felt as if I was disrespecting the creations by not nibbling them with silverware off fine china."
Georgio's is so dedicated to treating customers to a gourmet experience that its staffers actually take the pizza out of the oven before it is finished. They then wait until a customer selects the pizza before popping it back in—often adding extra ingredients—which ensures that the pies are always served piping hot without having to line the crust with charcoal briquettes.
Athletic aficionados soak in sporty showings on more than 20 TVs at the casual downtown eatery with a menu of tasty American eats. Slide into a stadium of starters, such as potato skins ($6.99) and spicy crab bits peppered with pops of jalapeños ($6.99), or down a spinach and artichoke dough disk, a pizza sporting the cheesy appetizer in lieu of sauce ($11.99). An all-star team of burger slingers catapult a multitude of choices, such as the Santa Fe burger bolstered by tangy chipotle mayo, the salami- and feta-fraught mediterranean burger, and the salmon burger, all served with fries ($8.99 each). The innovative grilled chicken alfredo penne ($9.99) and meatball parmesan grinders ($8.99) revamp Italian originals into contemporary American fare, thus infusing noshes with confusing feelings about their ambiguous origins.