In Vallé Cucina’s kitchen, chefs form fresh jumbo lump crabmeat into thick patties, pan-sear them to a golden-brown hue, and drizzle their crispy crusts with beurre blanc. The eatery’s crab cakes have been hailed by Delaware Today as the city’s best for several years running. Vallé Cucina’s classic Italian entrees are held to the same high standard: chefs hand-roll gnocchi and drizzle them with slow-simmered tomato sauce, and accent dry-aged steaks with elegant flourishes such as peppercorn brandy cream sauce and blue cheese. Servers recommend selections from Vallé Cucina’s vast wine list to enhance steaks or Trevi Fountain reproductions.
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.
A first-place winner at the 2010 Stephen Starr-Gary Maddox BBQ Challenge, Big D's composes succulent barbecue symphonies over a wood smoker, lit by apple and cherry wood, in addition to spinning delectable disks of pizza, and more. The brisket sandwich, boasting beef that was smoked for 16 hours in honor of the number of hours William Henry Harrison served as an American president, combines homemade seasonings on a hearty kaiser role ($6.75), and the pulled-pork pizza fuses two culinary styles ($16). Those with a congenital aversion to carnivorous fare can load up their cuisine depositories with a flavorful mélange of mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and black olives that forms the large veggie pizza ($13.99). The culinary constructors at Big D's also build an 8-ounce burger edifice out of beef, cheese, bacon, and indefatigable spirit ($6.75).
With a sprawling menu of New York–style pizza, hoagies, and pastas, Nick's Pizza fills tummies with a bevy of toothsome delights made fresh to order. Subdue rampaging hunger monsters with appetizers such as the homemade mozzarella sticks stuffed with gooey, delectable cheese ($6.50), or the breadsticks, perfect for constructing yeasty tabletop log cabins ($2.50). Pie lovers can sink teeth into the disk-shaped objects of their affection, choosing from a staggering array of toppings, piled majestically atop genuine New York–style crust. Pizzas include standards such as cheese (14", $8.50; 18", $11), spicy innovations such as the hot buffalo chicken (14", $13; 18", $15.50), and cross-cultural fusions such as the taco pizza (14", $12.50; 18", $15). A spread of pastas supply carbohydrate needs with offerings such as the spaghetti bolognese ($10.95), gnocchi pesto ($10.95), and the spinach ravioli florentine ($13.95), all topped with homemade sauce.
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.