Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
For those over the age of 55, Alberini’s will be remembered as the restaurant at the top of the strip in Niles…that magnificent mile of restaurants and clubs that served as the Valley’s evening playground from the late 50’s to the early 80’s. My memories range from awkward high school dates beginning in the mid 60’s to the place my wife and I went to dinner the evening before the birth of our son to a place where my friends would meet for monthly dinners.
Back in the day it sported a huge lobby, two large active dining rooms and a large bar. Then came the wonderful glass covered addition. But time passes, and survivability of that kind and size of restaurant from another era becomes problematic, especially in an area that has some economic challenges. Excellent food, atmosphere and a national reputation for its wine collection…with the exception of the Café 422, it was the last of the strip grand-dames to close. It was a sad day. That link to the past was gone.
The good news is Alberini’s is back under the name Alberini’s Trattoria. Located in Warren right on the Howland border on East Market Street…it’s up to date, more manageable in size, and has all the recipes that you came to know and love at the old place plus some really good new stuff!! Ironically, it is the top of a new strip of clubs and restaurants which include Up the Creek, Leo’s, Barrel 33, Salvatore’s, the Avalon Inn and The Chop House. How cool is that?
Alberini’s Trattoria is a winner. I have been there several times since it opened several months ago. With one exception, there is nothing I don’t like about this place. On my last visit the entire experience was a delight…from the extremely friendly and helpful person taking my reservation, to the friendly and welcoming greeting when we got there, to the professional service of our server, to its moderate pricing. And more importantly…the food is terrific. I have yet to have a bad meal there.
Let’s start with the accompaniments. One of my pet peeves is the “included” salad which sometimes amounts to not much more than some lettuce thrown on a plate. It doesn’t take much to dress up lettuce into something more with a wide variety of greens and some add-ons. Alberini’s does just fine. Thumbs up! The bread here is spectacular. It is an artisan bread with a texture between a bread and a cake and a crusty outside. You can make a meal on this alone. Thumbs up! The wedding soup is terrific. The old Alberini’s had a wedding soup that was something different than I was used to but always good. This is closer to the mark. I like it a lot. Thumbs up!
This time around for a main course my wife ordered the Eggplant Parmesan. Those who frequented Alberini’s before know that this is a reliable and always delicious standby. I chose the Pan Roasted Icelandic Cod with chorizo, mushrooms and tomatoes served over linguini. Something new!! It was spectacular. I am always afraid to order this type of thing because other places would tend to saturate it in garlic which to my mind is a cheap trick. Not here. Garlic is an obvious component but is subtle and laid back as it should be…allowing the star of the dish to be the Cod which was light and crunchy and delicious with an overall flavor that shined.
Chef Anthony Tountas, Jr., shows he is a true master not only in the skillful and careful preparation of his kitchen’s product, but in managing the old with the new. The base of his menu are the old Alberini tried and true favorites. But mixed into the menu are innovative approaches to traditional recipes demonstrating a modern and clean flair to food preparation that will serve the Trattoria well.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review I had one small reservation about Alberini’s Trattoria. The facility is extremely attractive with a large bar and an outdoor patio I will be anxious to visit this summer. But the layout of the restaurant portion is odd. I’m not sure who came up with the design, but going forward the owners may want to rethink that hallway effect with booths. But hey…given all the good things Alberini’s has going for it…we’ll live!!!!
I want to say a word about Chookie Alberini. He is a worthy heir to his Mom and Dad’s rich legacy of restaurants and cooking. Over the past several years he has faced a multitude of serious challenges both on a personal and business level. Through it all he continued to maintain his good nature and enthusiasm. He remains one of the nicest and kindest people I know. And he is still making music!!! For those of you who don’t know…he is an outstanding musician and has had headed up some of the best local bands around.
His business arrangement with his associates puts him out front as the face of Alberini’s Trattoria. He makes everyone who walks through the door feel like a million dollars. That’s part of the experience. His enthusiasm and goodwill has survived all of the “stuff” with which he has had to deal since the passing of his father and closing of the 422 facility. While good food and service are obviously the largest part of the dining out experience, equally important is making the patrons feel welcomed and making sure they are having the best evening out possible. That is what keeps them coming back. I have been to many places with absolutely outstanding food, but if I am treated as an afterthought or shabbily, I don’t go back. I hope Chook is there for a long, long time.
This is a definite four meatball establishment. Everyone should give it a go!!
By: Mark G. Mangie
5000 E Market St #14
Warren, OH 44484