Bistro Italia a neighborhood gem

We felt warmly welcomed stepping into Bistro Italia last weekend. The relatively new restaurant felt like an oasis after enduring the evening traffic on Coursey Boulevard. The friendly greeting, soft lighting, nice music and only one discreetly placed TV with the sound turned off all made us feel relaxed and ready to enjoy a lovely dinner.

And, starting with two delicious appetizers, we did just that. For starters, we split the ravioli ($7) among us and the five little pasta pillows filled with fluffy ricotta cheese and then breaded and fried were fantastic. The pasta was dusted with Parmesan and served hot with a rich marinara sauce for dipping. We also tried the foccacia bread ($6) and were impressed with both the taste of the well-seasoned, warm mozzarella-topped baked bread as well as the serving size — eight large slices. They cut the bread in pizza slice triangles and served it with marinara as well.

Our server always timed her stops perfectly and was so pleasant and easy to talk to it felt like she was an old friend. We always had full glasses of water and everything was timed perfectly.

We must have been in a sandwich mood that night because we ordered three different kinds, and we all agreed the good Italian bread was just perfect. The meatball sandwich ($8) featured juicy house-made meatballs in an easy-to-bite size topped with melted provolone cheese and more of the good marinara. Served warm with toasted bread, this filling sandwich hit the spot.

We also tried the Greek ($9) and since it’s Lent, swapped the chicken with grilled shrimp for an extra dollar. They may want to add the shrimp version to the menu because the moist grilled shrimp with the spinach, feta cheese, sun dried and roma tomatoes really was a wonderful combination. The layers of flavors on this sandwich along with the thick chewy bread were very satisfying.

The Italian sandwich ($9) was the usual combination of salami, ham and pepperoni topped with provolone cheese, but this one was also dressed with a fresh salad tossed in a vinaigrette that really cut through the richness of the meats and cheese and brought a brightness to the warm sandwich we really enjoyed.

All three of these delicious servings also came with house-made thin-cut fried potato chips lightly seasoned and dusted with Parmesan and they were good and plentiful.

The big appetite at our table chose the John the Butcher calzone ($12) and really enjoyed the ominously-named dish of pepperoni, capicola, salami, Italian sausage and bacon. For an extra 80 cents he added mushrooms which went well with all the meats. Though not so pretty to look at this meaty, cheesy calzone with the savory sauce brought great taste as well as size. The calzones could easily serve two with salads or a shared appetizer.

We couldn’t resist trying two of the desserts and though a good old-fashioned ice cream float caught our attention we went with the traditional tiramisu ($5) and the more exotic red velvet cheesecake ($7). Both were decadently delightful. The texture of the cake layered in with the creamier cheesecake on top of an Oreo crust made a wonderful bite with tastes that went perfectly together, and who couldn’t love a tiramisu with all the creamy tastes of espresso and chocolate? This one didn’t disappoint.

Even though the atmosphere is casual, the decor is an up-to-date mix of leather upholstered booths and modern chrome chairs around tables spaced nicely apart, and we felt that much care and pride went into the look as well as the food we were so pleasantly served. This neighborhood should consider itself lucky to be home to this lovely little gem.