Monday, June 1, 2009

Caffe Mario – Green Bay, WI

M.Giant and I were in town to visit one of his friends and since we got into town earlier than expected, we suggested dinner. Weet and her husband Esteban have a favorite Italian restaurant and suggested we eat there. We plugged Caffe Mario into the GPS and beat them by 5 minutes.

The place is really easy to drive past. It’s off a road in a residential neighborhood and it’s kind of in the back end of a scuba/marina shop in a very unassuming building. There are no signs leading to it, so you don’t see the actual sign until you’re right on top of it. I don’t think you could accidentally find this place. But once inside, it’s very beautifully decorated with bright colors, paintings, and photography.

I took a glance at the wine menu, which surprisingly had a lot of interesting wines on it. On top of this, each one had a really in-depth description which was helpful. Since my friend MO and I had been drinking considerable amounts of Sardinian wine while we were in Sicily, I went with a Sardinian white. When it arrived at the table, I knew it was the right choice. A deeper gold than a lot of whites, this wine was sweet, but not sugary. Now I wish I had written down which one it was. Just ask for it – you won’t be sorry.

The waitress explained what the specials were and I decided to get two out of the three. (Esteban got the third one, so we had all our bases covered). I started with a spicy sausage and cauliflower soup. Lots of chunks of spicy sausage in a flavorful broth with pieces of cauliflower that was surprisingly not mushy. It was fantastic.

The main dish was beef ravioli. I really expected them to bring out three or four medium-sized raviolis like a lot of Italian restaurants do. Not this place – there were 12-15 pieces of large ravioli stuffed with seasoned ground beef and with an appropriate amount of marinara on top. I don’t like my pasta swimming in sauce and this is a little bit more like traditional Italian cooking anyway.

The restaurant owner and chef, Mario, came out and talked with us. I let it slip (cause I’m THAT guy) that I was recently in Italy and he sat down and we had a nice discussion about his home country (he’s REALLY Italian). He was very tactful in telling me that he’s Roman and Romans don’t go to Sicily, but he had heard great things about Taormina, one of the places MO and I went. I assured him it was beautiful, despite the fog and if he wanted to sneak over there, no one would surely fault him. He was a fantastic host and all of his regular customers that came in seem to love him. He’s very charming.

I can’t vouch for flavors, but M.Giant had a chicken Frittata that looked amazing. Weet’s husband had the cheese tortellini and a couple of meatballs and those also looked great. For the life of me, I can’t remember what Weet had, but I know she was the only one to “man up” and get chocolate gelato after the meal.

I think I’ll actually be looking for excuses to drive the six hours to green bay to eat here now. It was that good. Of course, a six hour drive is dangerously comparable to a 7 hour flight to Italy… I’m just saying…

Top 5 things about Caffe Mario
1. Surprisingly, the Sausage and Cauliflower soup
2. Beef Ravioli
3. Mario, owner and chef, makes a point to pop out of the kitchen and mingle
4. Really friendly and helpful staff
5. Excellent wine list

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved Italian food – especially fantastic Italian food
2. No liquor license, so no Limoncello (…or was there?…)
3. Totally unfindable unless you are looking for it
4. The view of the beautiful river is spoiled only by the piles of coal and industrial towers on the opposite bank
5. It’s SIX hours away from me (site isn’t fully functional)


Paula said...

Just read your great review of Caffe Mario. If you find yourself driving up here again, plan to spend the night and enjoy some of our area offerings. Of course, it's more pleasant in the summer! But having secured the Super Bowl championship you can visit the Packer Hall of Fame, a good take, even if you aren't a Packer fan. We will have the Zippin Pippin up and running this summer at Bay Beach Amusement Park, we have museums (the Neville Public and the Oneida Nation are both standouts, also Heritage Hill), water sports, river cruise on the Foxy Lady (I don't recommend their food, though). Farmer's Markets, street fairs and more will keep you coming back, where it's better by the Bay.

Anonymous said...

They do have lemoncello and Mario makes it him self