Even though we have some of the best Italian restaurants in Northeast Ohio in our own Little Italy, let's set the record straight: The fact is that there are many great Italian spots sprinkled like Parmesan cheese throughout the region. And one of them is a classic vintage eatery. Bruno's Ristorante, located on an unassuming side street off Clark Ave., is the very definition of a diamond in the rough. That's because the surrounding neighborhood is actually kind of rough. That urban edge and the obscure address is why Bruno's bills itself as "the best kept secret in Cleveland." It's been open for more than 15 years, during which chef/owner Bruno DiSiena has worked hard to make his culinary dreams come true. Working his way up through the restaurant industry, he landed his first major gig with the orange and brown. As executive chef at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, he honed his skills keeping the big boys fed until the team was abruptly ripped out of Cleveland and shipped to Baltimore. Deciding not to opt for the corporate rat race, DiSiena opened up his very own spot, which has become an underground hit. All the pasta is made in-house daily. Particularly noteworthy are the gnocchi and lasagna, which keep winning awards. The lasagna, served in portions large enough for two, is stuffed with fresh meats and cheeses, and lathered in a perfectly sweetened red sauce. The fried calamari is another of my favorites, prepared the way the dish should be, with the calamari (tentacles and all) lightly battered and pan-fried golden. Served with a side of red sauce, the breading works as an accent instead of overpowering the fish. Other favorites on Bruno's menu include the fettuccine alfredo, fresh seafood selections, sausage and peppers, and hand-tossed pizza. Another trademark of a vintage eatery is a classic dessert menu, and Bruno's does not disappoint. It would be a sin to leave without an espresso and a homemade cannoli — only then have you completed your night. If there was a silver lining in losing the Browns, Bruno's Ristorante is it.
2644 West 41st St., Cleveland, 216-961-7087, brunosristorante.com
Any time you enter the borders of a village, you are sure to encounter a tasty vintage eatery. For proof of this, look no further than Rick's Café, located in the picturesque village of Chagrin Falls. More than 35 years ago, when Chagrin Falls was just a small country town, owners Alec Singer and William Greene opened a newfangled restaurant. Innovative for its time, Rick's Cafe featured a simply prepared menu in an art deco-designed bistro. In another innovation considered radical for its time, the bistro became a nightclub on weekends, featuring live local bands. Not surprisingly, both Singer and Greene are serious movie buffs, which is where they got their name (from Casablanca). But in place of the Moroccan décor, they furnished their place with antiques and other vintage items assembled by Northeast Ohio's antique and auction guru, Michael Wolf. Under the direction of chef Sherrie Pallotta since 1979, Rick's kitchen has established a reputation that goes well beyond the confines of the quaint village setting. It has become famous for its barbecue and gourmet burgers, as well as fresh grilled seafood selections and an array of ethnic foods. Pioneering vegetarian offerings in the village, Pallotta has been very committed to using natural, organic, non-processed ingredients. The seasoned and admirably loyal staff serve some of my favorite dishes on the east side. A few culinary rock stars are the Lobster BLT on a Kaiser roll with key lime mayonnaise; the PuPu Platter, which features a trio of BBQ delights like shrimp, ribs and wings; and the flour burrito filled with brown rice and black beans, which is a vegetarian's dream. For fish-lovers and heat-seekers, the grilled buffalo scallops with bleu cheese sauce always satisfies. And the restaurant's appeal has been enduring. "We are now feeding some of our original customers' grandchildren," says Singer. To borrow a line from Humphrey Bogart: "Here's looking at you, Rick's."
86 North Main St., Chagrin Falls, 440-247-7666, rickscafeandcatering.com