In another life, I was Italian, by marriage and stomach. All week, I would look forward to Sunday dinners, which were an all-day affair full of conversation, wine, and more food than I could and should eat.
Sometimes dinner would be braciole, other days it would be hand-rolled gnocchi (sometimes both). But the best days were when I’d come over and be greeted by the smell of red sauce that had been simmering all day on the stove. I’d wait impatiently to dig into that savory red sauce teeming with pork ribs and meatballs.
These days I’m no longer Italian by marriage, but I kept the stomach for from-scratch Italian food.
It seems that there are two extremes of Italian cuisine in metro Detroit. There’s the familiar Italian-American fare (e.g. chicken parmigiana drowning in cheese or spaghetti with unlimited breadsticks and salad). On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the high-end Italian restaurant, the kind of place you go to only when it’s your birthday or your significant other messed up and they’re apologizing through dinner.
But sometimes you just want a glass of wine and a bowl of meatballs with homemade bread. The long-awaited restaurant from Supino Pizzeria owner Dave Mancini, La Rondinella is the place for just that. A cool, casual neighborhood joint, it’s perfect for grabbing drinks at happy hour or celebrating a special occasion (apology dinners still applicable).
It’s also on the quieter side (even with the unusually chatty, loud guy next to us, but that was part of the charm). Several newer places that have opened in the area aren’t conducive to conversation. The night will usually end with you losing your voice after screaming at your dining companions for three hours, fighting to be heard over the latest Drake song that’s blaring over the speakers.
Here, the atmosphere is chill. A painting on one wall pays homage to Supino, which is south of Rome and the inspiration behind the popular Eastern Market pizza joint next door. The menu is brief and changes seasonally; the constant is that it’s based on Mancini’s family’s comfort foods and his travels around the homeland.
We started off with the fritelle di baccala (salt cod fritters) and polpette (meatballs), two of our favorites when we stop in. The salt cod fritters were spot-on: huge chunks of fish enveloped in a perfectly fried exterior and served with a well-balanced salsa verde aioli, while the meatballs—accompanied by bright marinara sauce and ciabatta (ask for extra)—were Sunday dinner worthy.
For the main courses, the must-have dishes are the pollo agrodolce and calamari ripiene. Order chicken in a restaurant? Normally it’s not worth it, but in this case this unique dish is an Italian version of sweet and sour with just a touch of spice. The stuffed squid is the highlight of the entire menu, expertly seasoned and nestled atop a very Italian and well-dressed grain and green salad.
The farinate—chickpea flour crepe—is hit or miss. On this evening it seemed dry and slightly overcooked (we did scrape off the delicious eggplant and caper topping and ate it by itself), but on a previous visit it was just fine.
For dessert, cannolis come fully loaded (chocolate and pistachio) or just chocolate or just pistachio. Pistachio stars in the delectable and dreamy semifreddo.
Service reflects the attitude of the restaurant: laid-back, friendly, and accommodating. Our server knew the menu like the back of her hand and helped me choose a red wine suited for my palate, which thirsts for dry and bold.
Like Supino, La Rondinella is a thoughtful tribute to family meals. If you lack access to an Italian mom, this comfy neighborhood spot is a good alternative. Now only if they were open Sundays.
2453 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2051. D Tues.-Sat