- 2311 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY, 40206
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday 4-9 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
A week or so ago, The New York Times reported that in England, where there is no such thing as no-fault divorce, food-related disputes often lead to the dissolution of a marriage. There was, for instance, the notorious case of the bride who frequently served her husband a dish he hated: tuna casserole. In another case, one party couldn’t tolerate her partner’s taste for cold cuts (unhand my liverwurst, say I!).
In my house, we’re prone to culinary compromise, except in two areas. My wife, Mary, has a quite irrational preference for ultra-smooth mashed potatoes and for velvety soft meatballs. I, on the other hand, have a perfectly reasonable preference for the more rustic versions of both. I like the coarse, countrified authenticity of lumpy taters, and meatballs with a rough-hewn, manly texture.
That said, the folks at DiFabio’s Casapela Italian Restaurant might just turn me around on this. The restaurant, which opened a couple of years ago on Frankfort Avenue, is the Louisville sibling of a popular Madisonville, Ky., restaurant.
The Louisville DiFabio’s, operated by partners Caitlind DiFabio and Jon Riley, is housed in an old house that was once a toll house, and more recently served as the last outpost of Ray Parella’s, one of the region’s most storied Italian family restaurants. The dining areas — a pleasant sheltered porch and a cozy, warmly lit indoor room — are comfy and unpretentious, just weathered enough to make you feel as if you’re visiting relatives who’ve lived in a pleasant old neighborhood since the ’50s (and who just happen to have a great collection of vintage sound recordings that run the gamut from Frank Sinatra singing “Cheek to Cheek” to Hank Williams insisting that it’s time for the little dog to roll over and let the big dog in).
If you’re lucky enough that those relatives happen to be Italian-American, you might have come across meatballs like the ones at DiFabio’s. As for me, I’ve never tasted their equal. By modern standards, they’re not especially spicy, though you’ll definitely pick up subtle hints of herbs and garlic. What sets them apart is that they very nearly melt in your mouth. I’d call them buttery, except that they’re not sleek or oily. I’d call them velvety, but velvet is too heavy a fabric. They hover somewhere between earth and air, and they’re awfully fun to eat.
At DiFabio’s, you choose your pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, linguine, tortellini or ravioli), add a sauce (meat, pink, marinara, pesto, alfredo), then add things like meatballs, chicken, sausage, shrimp or veal.
Prices with no add-ons hover around $10; adding a meatball costs a couple of bucks. Me, I’d add a couple of meatballs, which means an order of spaghetti and meatballs with a nicely executed pink sauce (or an excellent marinara) would run $14 or $15 — but that also includes a crisp, fresh salad served in a bowl for the entire table — not a bad price for a good dinner these days (you could also opt for lasagna, $13, or manicotti, $12).
DiFabio’s is really strongest at old-school Italian-American, as when it bakes Capriole goat cheese and serves it with marinara and flat bread ($7). And the bruschetta ($7) is simple and outstanding — just baked ciabatta with a judicious dose of melted mozzarella served with a dipping bowl of ground ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and plenty of garlic.
Sometimes, the kitchen has ideas that simply don’t work for me, no matter how well executed. For instance, consider the gorgonzola filet ($27). Or rather, reconsider it. As it stands, the kitchen staffers use an 8-ounce filet. They cook it perfectly medium-rare (as ordered). And when you slice into it you discover a splendid, thick cut of beef. Then cover it with a pure white sauce and a sprinkle of walnuts. Never mind that the white sauce barely tastes of gorgonzola, the point of a sauce is to accent, not to conceal. And anyway, wouldn’t a judicious sprinkle of real gorgonzola work just as effectively and create a better visual impression?
But ambitious overreach aside, the kitchen mostly does a fine job. A crisp fillet of chicken would be the focus of the chicken parmigiana ($15) if the richly flavored marinara weren’t so darned good. And though the hefty jumbo shrimp were cooked just a few seconds past perfection in an order of scampi (market-priced, recently in the mid-teens), and a finish of golden-brown breadcrumbs seemed gratuitous, the brightly flavored white wine sauce was just fine.
Come to think of it, so was a finishing portion of tiramisu.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.