7 Tasty Italian Restaurants to Try

By Kevin Revolinski | Photo by Nicole Hansen Photography (Pictured: Bar Corallini)

Madison is home to an impressive assortment of Italian restaurants, from casual pizzerias to fine dining and everywhere in between.

Bar Corallini

Chef Giovanni Novella hails from the foot of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy, and brings handcrafted pastas and pizzas to this light and breezy space in the Schenk’s Corners neighborhood. Check out the paccheri with house-made ’nduja (a spicy, spreadable pork sausage), ricotta gnocchi or bucatini carbonara. An antipasti board, appetizers and several pizza options grace the menu as well. Vegetarians have good choices, including a meatless muffuletta. (They also have a separate vegan menu.) Service is cheery, portions are generous, and the bar is on point. barcorallini.com

Lombardino’s

A Madison institution since the 1950s, the restaurant has passed through a few Italian-American families and is a standard-bearer for special nights out. (The current owner, the restaurant’s fifth, is Michael Banas.) The menu offers a wide range of antipasti, classic brick-oven pizzas, and pastas including Bolognese, tagliatelle primavera and the familiar Italian-American spaghetti with red sauce. Among the entrée options are the “chicken under a brick” served on Anson Mills creamy polenta with rosemary-chicken sauce and the pan-seared scallops. Ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible, including the fabulous sausage from Fraboni’s Italian Specialties & Delicatessen. lombardinos.com

Amara

A sleek, modern space serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, this new spot serves several pasta dishes and entrees that include porchetta, which is spiral-wound roasted pork belly. Check out their list of share- able spuntini (snacks), daily aperitivo happy hour and a nice assortment of amari (see sidebar). In season, the patio seating and open-air dining room are the best. amaramadison.com

Cento

Suitable for a nice night out or casual drinks and appetizers at the tall tables near the bar (Roman-fried artichokes and fried olives anyone?), Cento is ideal before a show at Overture. In fact, they even have a dedicated, prix- fixe, three-course Theater Menu.

Dinner offers a short pizza menu and classic entrees such as seafood risotto, carbonara, chicken parmesan and lobster scampi. Or, opt for a steak, scallops or roasted duck. Daily happy hours offer deals on spritzes, Peroni beer and the recently re-popularized Negroni Sbagliato. centomadison.com

Naples 15

A native of Ischia off the coast of Naples, chef Salvatore Di Scala runs one of only four Wisconsin restaurants serving the strictly-regulated Verace Pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza). This traditional pie has speci- fications for the type of tomatoes and cheese that must be used, and the dough recipe follows specific ingredi- ents, ratios and preparation.

Meanwhile, Naples 15’s pasta is imported from Campania’s Gragnano, considered home to the best pasta in the world. More than half of the wines on their wine list are similarly regional. Check out the puttanesca or any dish with the traditional slow- cooked Naples ragu sauce, as well as numerous seafood dishes, especially with lobster, inspired by Di Scala’s island home. naples15.com

Villa Dolce

Nothing says Italy like friends and family gathering at a casual pizzeria or eating gelato on an evening passeggiata (stroll). The focus here is artisanal pizzas ranging from tradi- tional margherita and veggie pesto Genovese to fusion Thai chicken and pear and gorgonzola. The menu also offers pasta dishes that include cacio e pepe and a grass-fed beef Bolognese, entrées such as roasted lamb and grilled seafood, and an assortment of salads and appetizers. The house- made gelato makes a great finish — or even a standalone reason to stop by for an evening stroll through downtown Middleton. villadolcecafe.com

Osteria Papavero

Chef and owner Francesco Mangano is from Bologna, in the heart of Italy’s Food Valley, and his dual commitment to tradition and local sourcing for this rustic fare earned him a nomination for a James Beard Award in 2023. Their specials menu changes frequently, and whether you’re here for a fine dinner, casual plate sharing or even dessert, you’re in good hands. Standouts include the wild boar ragout and the gramigna pasta with asparagus and fresh ricotta. The butterscotch pudding is a must. osteriapapavero.com


Amazing Amaro

Amaro (amari is the plural term) is Italian for “bitter,” but it’s also a type of digestive commonly sipped after a big meal. Originally a medicinal tonic, the liqueur is made by macerating up to 30-plus botanicals in a spirit or wine base with a varying touch of sugar to make the “medicine” go down.

Some are bracingly bitter; others well balanced with sweetness.

Some are citrusy or more herbal in character. Local liquor stores carry increasing varieties, and of course, Italian restaurants serve them. Downtown cocktail lounge Oz by Oz notably stocks 15 to 20 amari.

Popular varieties include Montenegro, Meletti, Ramazzotti, artichoke-based Cynar, sherry- cask-aged Amaro Nonino and Fernet-Branca. Drink them neat, on the rocks or even in a cocktail, such as the Black Manhattan, made with Averna amaro swapped in for the vermouth.

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