Dan Butler is a master of reinvention. Piccolina Toscana is his latest restaurant venture stationed in Trolley Square, home to beloved Italian eateries dating back 20 years. Inside an open dessert kitchen, Dan and his staff craft rich Italian specialties including biscotti, tiramisu, and spiced panna cotta with maple-syrup foam; in the regular kitchen, they prepare a rotating menu of artisanal cheeses, seasonal pasta dishes, and housemade and imported salumi. These delectable wares have proven popular and earned praise from local publications, including the News Journal and kisses on the cheek from area grandmothers.
From the strains of live blues resonating through its walls to the spicy kick of its habañero Voodoo shrimp, Blue Parrot Bar & Grille recreates the freewheeling, vivacious vibe of a New Orleans nightclub. Guests sip colorful mojitos and hurricanes as they dig into Creole and Cajun specialties, including étouffée, red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya. Live bands primarily capture the gazes of diners, although the restaurant’s decor is interesting on its own. Murals, carnival masks, and posters evoke lively Bourbon Street scenes and Mardi Gras celebrations; outside, a brick patio surrounds guests with fountains, canna plants, and a large mural of a French Quarter–style inn.
In 1940, crowds of people would line up outside Tresilla Robino's front door, all awaiting coveted seats in the tiny dining room she had set up in her basement. Today, Mrs. Robino's great grandson replicates her beguiling Italian recipes and maintains a family business that has thrived for more than 70 years. Cooks place hearty meatballs atop tangles of housemade spaghetti and tuck seasoned meat and creamy ricotta cheese into hand-formed pockets of ravioli. The kitchen staff also breads veal cutlets by hand before topping them off with provolone and red sauce, and dusts sweet cannolis with powdered sugar for clear fingerprinting.
Cafe Scalessa is owned by titular chef Don Scalessa, who serves up authentic Italian cuisine in a sophisticated, lively environment. After 5 p.m. is when the fun really revs up in this cabin of comestibles, as later in the evening, diners are encouraged to dance when the music kicks in and the disco lights oscillate. Opt out of jiggling wildly and alternately dig into a plateful of homemade pasta with chicken, veal, sausage, or meatballs, or take it easy and savor an appetizer of crab dip or calamari. There are plenty of options on Cafe Scalessa's dinner menu, which supports creative sides by encouraging diners to customize dishes to suit their palate and multiple forked tongues. After the hearty meal and before the float down a nearby lazy river, find time to squeeze in a homemade dessert of cannoli, tiramisu, or buttercake.
For the past 27 years, a single family has passed Ristorante Attilio from parent to child. Now helmed by the second and third generations, the eatery specializes in housemade pastas shaped into manicotti, linguini, and gnocchi, with gluten-free options available. The hand-crafted noodles come drenched in a choice of sauces, which run the gamut from meat- and clam-infused varieties to meat-free options for pastatarians. Other classic dishes, such as veal parmigiana and the cheesesteak sandwich, round out the kitchen’s offerings, which staffers can infuse with hot peppers or smelt for a burst of Italian flavor.
Since firing up Café Mezzanotte’s ovens in 2003, chef and owner Sergio Pellegrino has reminded diners of every nation, race, and creed how much they miss the cooking of their Italian great-grandmothers. Specializing in classically prepared Italian cuisine, Chef Pellegrino begins dinner with fresh soups and salads ($6–$12) alongside mozzarella caprese ($11), beef carpaccio with arugula in truffle oil ($12), and other scrumptious starters. Then the lights go down and the entrees roll in, a veritable Miss Mediterranean of proteins from the land, sea, and air, featuring stuffed chicken in a balsamic reduction ($22), tender and flavorful veal saltimbocca ($26), and an ocean-emptying sea bass cioppino ($29).