Some summer nights in downtown Plymouth are a little slice of Americana. Residents stream toward the town square, folding chairs and coolers in hand, as an old-fashioned band concert is in full swing.
A few blocks away, there’s a little slice of Italiana.
Six years ago, Paul DePalma opened Nico & Vali. He grew up in the restaurant business — his father ran DePalma’s Ristorante in Livonia for about a decade. So when his building business fell victim to the economy in 2008, he decided to return to his roots.
It was touch and go that first 18 months. After all, it was a recession; opening a restaurant was like going from the frying pan to the fire. But DePalma drew on his building expertise to remodel an old office on Wing Street and opened a deli offering grilled paninis, salads, carryout lasagna, and miscellaneous retail items.
He named it Nico & Vali, a hybrid of his three kids’ names: Nicola, Valentina, and Liliana. The recipes drew on his family’s Italian heritage.
And it caught on, gradually morphing into a full-service restaurant with indoor and patio seating, beer, wine, and cocktails.
About a year ago, an Italian chef joined the kitchen. With her Sicilian roots and experience cooking in Italy, Schoolcraft College graduate Nicole Polidori has worked to perfect a menu that offers authentic Italian favorites with some unexpected twists.
“We tried to keep it as authentic as possible and show people something different,” Polidori says. “People have a different understanding of what Italians eat — Americans think super-saucy, overdressed pastas, where really it’s very lightly sauced pastas … just your very basic, all-fresh ingredients.”
Consider the Artichokes & Chilies appetizer: melt-in-your-mouth lightly battered and fried Roman artichokes with Fresno and jalapeno peppers, tossed with fresh basil in a white wine sauce you’ll want to mop to the last drop with your bread.
Sage and butter are one of the sauce options here (the first and only other time I experienced sage and butter with pasta that I didn’t make myself happened in Florence, oozing out of a pillow of homemade ravioli). DePalma recommends it over house-made gnocchi.
The La Stracciatella (Italian-style egg drop soup) is also made from scratch, “right down to the chicken being shredded by hand,” DePalma says.
Fish lovers can select from Swordfish Braciole, grilled swordfish that’s rolled with a caper and white anchovy tapenade in artichoke-lemon sauce, or Risotto with Trout Filet. Popular choices include Chicken Saltimbocca, Vermouth Lamb Porterhouse, and a veal scallopini. There’s also an array of appetizers, pastas, lasagnas, burger and sandwich choices, pizza, and gourmet desserts.
Prices and portions are reasonable. Most pastas range from $10-$14 and include salad, bread, and dipping oil. Top-end entrees are $22 (swordfish and lamb).
The place doesn’t consider itself high end, DePalma says. “Our big demographic is families.”
The staff fits that demographic, too. His son, Nico, works there. Polidori says she grew up going to the DePalmas’ house. Her brother, Joe, is a manager.
“It’s really a family thing,” she says. “And I think everybody who comes here feels it.”