Looking for lunch? Go Italian

Longtime favorite Italian Cottage offers a diverse, attractive midday menu

<i>BUON APPETITO!</i> Sophia Maggiora and Nieko Kroon hunker down to lunch served up by waitperson Jimmy Bryant at the Italian Cottage Restaurant on Dominic Drive.

BUON APPETITO! Sophia Maggiora and Nieko Kroon hunker down to lunch served up by waitperson Jimmy Bryant at the Italian Cottage Restaurant on Dominic Drive.

Photo By Tom Angel

Italian Cottages: 2234 Esplanade, 343-7000 2525 Dominic Drive, 342-7771

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
—Virginia Woolf

Since childhood I have enjoyed going to the Italian Cottage for a hearty meal. There’s something about its cool, dark interior, the sawdust on the floor and the charming ethnic décor that enhances the overall atmosphere, which is consistently pleasant and relaxing. Add to that the diverse menu choices of Mediterranean-style foods, and it’s clear: The Italian Cottage delivers.

It had been my habit in recent years, however, to steer toward the Cottage for its breakfasts, which are well known for their generous portions and tantalizing flavors. Recently, a friend and I stopped by the Italian Cottage on the Skyway for lunch, and we made a serendipitous discovery: A lunch specials menu offering healthful, delicious options for the midday meal.

We sipped herb tea while deliberating the menu choices, which included “starters” such as tomato garlic soup, bruschetta and pesto cottage bread. We weren’t hungry enough for any of those goodies, in spite of their allure. I selected the Cottage Seasoned Chicken Breast ($8.75), declining the melted cheese that usually tops the chicken. When my plate arrived, I happily discovered a well-presented meal.

The spinach and sautéed mushrooms, as well as the chicken, offered superb taste; however, I was mildly disappointed with the salad, which on the wilted side. Salads that are mostly iceberg lettuce (even hand-cut) really don’t excite me very much, anyway. The meat and vegetable made up for any shortcomings on the salad’s part, though, and the ranch dressing served with the salad was fresh and palatable.

My lunch partner ordered the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich ($7.25), which appeared quite tempting when it arrived at our table. When my friend offered, I tried a bite of it—and the flavor of the sandwich filling pleased me. My friend and I agreed, though, that the filling-to-bread ratio was a bit off—in other words, the sandwich was on the “bready” side and could have used a bit more filling. Still, it was good.

Another item on the lunch specials menu that we want to go back to try was the Tostada Stratta ($7.95), crispy corn tortillas layered on a delicious tostada with carnitas, Spanish rice, beans, and spicy chipotle dressing. Our waitress recommended it to us, saying it was an item she couldn’t stay away from for long. She piqued our interest, and we appreciated a service person who was able to recommend an item from her own “tasting” experience; however, we weren’t in the mood for Mexican that day, so we’ll simply have to make a return trip.

We’ll also have to go back to try out the desserts, which included a Tiramisu Sundae and the Elmer’s Brownie Ala Mode (both $5.25). The wine list includes an array of nice choices for dinner-goers, most notably the Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio ($16).

What we enjoyed about our Italian Cottage lunch besides the delicious meals and the pleasant atmosphere was the service. When we walked inside the door, a hostess immediately greeted us cordially. We were quickly shown to a table and provided with menus. Our waitress came back fairly quickly to see if we were ready to order, obviously concerned we might be on a tight lunch schedule.

We appreciated her promptness, but we were slacking that day, so when we weren’t quite ready to order, she graciously gave us more time. She attentively served us and saw to our needs, and other servers checked in on us as well, which suggested good teamwork at the Cottage.

Our one small complaint might be this (and we would direct this to service people everywhere): Don’t become “invisible” once the check is paid. If people are lingering over coffee and tea, continue to keep their cups filled.

The Italian Cottage provides a cozy hideaway for a chatty lunch with a friend. Its midday specials menu beckons lunch-goers to stop by for an insouciant repast.