I had added the longtime stalwart Casa Mimi's Italian Restaurant to my "To Eat" list quite some time ago due to a reader suggestion, only to recently hear rumors of its demise. Fearing that this Akron institution had finally succumbed to the downturn in the economy, I somewhat tentatively drove up Manchester Road half expecting to find a building dark and shuttered. What I discovered was that as a business entity, Casa Mimi was indeed gone. In its place, however, was a sign indicating that the restaurant was now called Casa Perfetto. Intrigued, I pulled into the lot behind the restaurant, parked my car, grabbed my camera bag and began the process of unearthing the truth.
Casa Perfetto was located at 2214 Manchester Road, Akron, OH 44314 and can be reached at 330-745-4447. Parking was behind the restaurant and to the side. While Casa Perfetto doesn't have their own website, there are a number of sites on the Internet talking about them and you can add yourself as a fan on their Facebook page.
While the restaurant used to have a storefront facing Manchester Road many years ago, for as long as I've known about Casa Mimi's, it has always looked like the front of a somewhat seedy bar:
Once inside the rear entrance, if you walk straight ahead, you will actually enter the bar area. If, instead you take the first door to your left (just past all of the pictures of the famous people who have dined at Mimi's/Perfetto's over the years), this was the location of the main dining area. Because it had been close to twelve years since I had stepped foot into this room, it was much smaller than I remembered. The room was very dimly lit and there were maybe three other tables of people at various points in their meals. When someone walked in behind me, she told me I could sit wherever I liked and since the lighting was the same throughout the room, I picked the rear corner table, just to be out of the way.
It turned out that the woman who sat me was one of the owners of Casa Perfetto, and while they had kept the name Casa Mimi for nearly twelve years after Mimi retired, only within the last year did they change the name to reflect their own last name. Fortunately, one of the brothers who had originally opened the restaurant was still the chef in the kitchen.
She left me with the large menu to look through as I waited for my server to make her way to my table:
Just inside the main entrance to the dining room was the Daily Specials Menu:
In addition to the items listed, apparently fresh frog legs were also available for the more adventurous diner.
When my server finally had a chance to stop at my table, I told her that it had been quite some time (more than a decade) since I last had a meal at the restaurant and if she could recommend something off of the menu. She gave me a somewhat perplexed look.
"It's hard to recommend one thing specifically. The chef makes everything from scratch, from pounding the chicken and veal cutlets to the sauces and desserts."
Seeing that there was gnocchi available in the pasta section of the menu, I responded, "Even the gnocchi?"
"Even the gnocchi," she replied. "And," she continued, "you can get a side of the gnocchi with any of the entrees for only a small upcharge."
I thanked her for her advice and she went back into the kitchen to retrieve the glass of water for which I had asked as well as a basket of warmed dinner rolls with pats of butter:
The dinner rolls weren't anything particularly special, although they were just a touch on the stale side. Perhaps they dried out slightly during the reheating process. Either way, they didn't make or break the meal.
After reading the menu description for the garlic bread, I decided that if the menu claimed it was the "world's best," then I would have to test that assertion:
The only real misstep in service tonight was that while I ordered my garlic bread with the rest of my meal, unfortunately my server forget to put the order in and as such, it came out with my entree instead of at the beginning. This didn't present too much of a problem considering I knew I would be taking home vast quantities of food, and having a little garlic bread for a later meal would be a fine thing indeed.
The garlic bread was essentially a split roll that had been brushed with butter and liberally sprinkled with fresh garlic and toasted under a broiler. Were they good? As a garlic lover, I was happy. Was it the best garlic bread in the world? I've actually had better and it wasn't in a restaurant (shout out to you, Debbie S.). The garlic bread reminded me slightly of the version that they used to serve at Parasson's before switching to their current Texas Toast knock-off. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but "world's best"? Um, no.
Each entree came with your choice of soup or salad to start off the meal and seeing that I had my choice between Egg Noodles in Brodo, Italian Wedding Soup, or Tortellini Soup, I made the choice to go with a classic Italian staple, Wedding Soup:
The last time I had eaten this soup was at Vaccaro's Trattoria during a family meal I had shared with friends. Casa Perfetto's version was tasty, well-seasoned, and had a nice blend of traditional ingredients such as meatballs, acini de pepe, escarole, and broth. In addition, as I dug into the bottom of the bowl, I lifted the spoon only to discover lots of melted, stringy cheese (which I assumed was shredded Mozzarella) and even more surprised to find several cheese tortellini. While Casa Perfetto's was good, Vaccaro's was better. Raphael Vaccaro finishes his soup with beaten egg and Romano cheese and the sharpness from the cheese gives his soup just a tad more depth. When I asked my server about the presence of the tortellini, she kind of smiled and shrugged her shoulders and indicated that the chef sometimes likes to get creative with the soup.
For my main course, I decided on Casa Perfetto's signature entree, Chicken Perfetto:
As the photo suggests, this was an enormous plate of food. As I cut the first piece of perfectly breaded and fried chicken meat, I discovered ultra tender and juicy chicken that had been combined with Provolone cheese and finished in a Marsala and mushroom sauce. Seasoned perfectly, the chicken just melted in my mouth. I kept wondering why there weren't more diners in the restaurant tonight with food this tasty. I suppose part of it could be the price tag: my entree alone was $18. That would make each breast worth $9. Would I pay $9 for a half portion? Yes, I would. While I always love having leftovers (especially if the meal was good), knowing that you will be leaving with half of your meal before even entering the restaurant gave it a slightly Cheesecake Factory vibe to it.
For my side dish, I upgraded the capellini in red sauce to the Gnocchi in Meat Sauce:
When I first moved to Akron back in 2004, I couldn't find any restaurants offering a good version of this potato-laden pasta. All of the pre-made ones at the grocery store came out heavy and leaden and just sat in the pit of my stomach. So, I did what any resourceful foodie would do, I taught myself how to make gnocchi from scratch. I very much like the version that I make (and will be blogging my recipe over the summer), but I also realize there are other textures out in the gnocchi-eating world, too. Casa Perfetto's version wasn't quite as light as my own, but it also wasn't heavy, either. The dumplings had a nice chew and tasted quite good on their own sans sauce. With the rich, hearty meat sauce covering the gnocchi, this became a side dish to remember. At the rear of the photograph above, the sauce looks a little more orange-ish than the sauce on top. That was because the chef had mixed the red sauce with cheese, tossed the gnocchi in that, and then ladled even more red sauce on top. Delicious.
Because I ate only half of my chicken and gnocchi, I decided to entertain the idea of dessert. Anticipating that I would need something bitter to cut through the sweetness of dessert, I ordered a cup of decaffeinated coffee, black:
Of the four desserts my server described to me tonight (all of which are made in-house), the one that grabbed my attention was the simple Cannoli:
What I often forget about true Italian desserts was that they often were sweetened, but not overly so. This was exactly the case tonight with the cannoli. Filled with sweetened Ricotta, the freshly fried cannoli shell had been dipped in colored sugar and plated on a dessert plate that had been artfully drizzled with chocolate syrup. There were also bits of bittersweet chocolate inside the Ricotta filling. The cannoli shell was so crisp that it shattered easily as I pierced it with my fork. This single cannoli (or should I just call it a cannolo?) was roughly $6, and while delicious, seemed a bit high for this type of dessert.
After packing up all of my leftovers, my server dropped off my check. With tip and tax, my meal tonight was slightly over $43. While the food had been delicious, I basically had to grapple with the fact that I just paid $21.50 for two meals. The experience reminded me of a meal at Buca de Beppo, where going by oneself for dinner is a guarantee of a large doggy bag of food. When I asked my server about the lack of clientele tonight, she seemed nonplussed by it and said that after they had been swamped over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, she was actually glad to get a bit of a break. She indicated that Tuesday nights (the night I went) were a bit of a toss up: sometimes they were busy and sometimes not. She did recommend that if I decided to return for a weekend visit or if I had a large number of guests in my party that it would be smart to call ahead for a reservation.
I greatly enjoyed my food and dining experience tonight at Casa Perfetto. While Casa Mimi may be a thing of the past, Casa Perfetto will likely be keeping the Italian food tradition alive for quite a few more years. If this type of Italian fare appeals to you, I would heartily recommend you track them down and give them a try yourself. While cheaper Italian fare can be had elsewhere, the kind of quality ingredients and successful execution of old-school Italian classics at this level is a rare treat indeed.