Executive chef Steve Siekierzynski pulls a pizza from the wood-burning oven. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)
When Luigi Cutraro closed his long-running Sangria Tapas Café early this year, he was quoted as saying he intended to open a small, cozy Italian restaurant.
Statements like that are often empty promises. Not so with Cutraro. He has done just what he said, debuting his rustic Trattoria Pizzeria da Luigi just a few blocks from the Sangria location in downtown Royal Oak. It took over the space that briefly housed Antica Pizzeria Fellini, and that’s part of why the new spot is not called simply Trattoria da Luigi. The wood-burning brick oven in one corner of the dining room, the only thing left from the previous regime, made pizza almost inevitable.
The rest of the space has been completely redone. It’s a romantic setting with scenic murals, strings of vintage filament light bulbs overhead adding a festive garden party feeling to the rustic brick and wood-bedecked room with linen-covered tables, multicolored napkins adding a splash of color and tiny bar tucked into one corner.
Pizzas made with San Marzano tomato sauce and such toppings as baby arugula, prosciutto di Parma, artichokes and grilled eggplant are well worth ordering; however, there is much more on the solidly Italian menu with listings for antipasti, insalate, primi and secondi courses, and dolci. The latter include include a selection of cheeses — a nice touch that underscores Cutraro’s intent to stay true to his Sicilian roots. Also on the dolci list: caffe affogato, espresso poured over vanilla ice cream, a real delight.
But first things first: Antipasti include, of course, an array of salami including capocollo, prosciutto and mortadella along with cheese and olives; bruschetta, toasted Italian bread in three styles — topped with olive tapenade, the assertive Sicilian relish caponata or simply chopped tomatoes atop the crusty bread.
The pastas are listed as first courses, meaning they are served in relatively discreet portions, leading up to the solid second-course dishes. Especially recommended: the pappardelle con Marsala e funghi, wide ribbons of pasta in a lightly applied mushroom and Marsala sauce. Second courses include marinated and grilled lamb chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, the classic saltimbocca alla Romana, thinly sliced veal with prosciutto, sage and white wine, and pork cutlet (braciola) rolled with fontina cheese and prosciutto and paired with polenta. Adding a local touch is the baked Lake Superior whitefish with tomato compote and basil oil. There is no law that says diners must order from all the sections, of course.
Certainly worth noting is the moderate price structure, especially given the quality of the food. Lamb chops are the most expensive entrée at $24, with most of the others less than $20.
The wine list is equally affordable and completely Italian, but Cutraro says he has decided to add a few California wines to the list.
Behind the scenes in the newly installed kitchen is the well-traveled Steve Siekierzynski, whose resume includes Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro, La Dolce Vita and the Garage Grill, and he is a talented and enthusiastic chef.
Unpretentious and likable, this new destination has the potential to become a Royal Oak favorite.
Trattoria Pizzeria da Luigi
415 S. Washington, Royal Oak
Call: (248) 542-4444
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Hours: Dinner only 4-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., 4-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Closed Mon.
Prices: Appetizers $6-$13, pizzas $7.50-$13.50, salads $4-$14, pastas $13-$15, entrees $15-$24, desserts $4.50-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and an Italian wine list
Noise level: Subdued
Parking: Street or nearby structure
Wheelchair access: No barriers