We'd been hearing about Rastrelli's in Clinton, IA for a number of years. We'd heard that their Italian food was very good, but their pizza was the thin crust with the big chunks of Italian sausage that we crave in a good pizza. On one recent Sunday afternoon, Cindy suggested we take a little drive up the river road and find Rastrelli's to have a pizza.
Pete Rastrelli was an Italian immigrant who ended up in Clinton in the late 20's as a candy maker. In the candy shop where he worked he met a daughter of Italian immigrants, Ida. In 1929, they married and ten years later they opened their own candy store - Rastrelli's Revere Candy Shop - in the old Revere Hotel in downtown Clinton. In addition to selling candy, Pete and Ida also had an old-fashioned soda bar that sold homemade ice cream, burgers and sandwiches.
When the Revere Hotel was sold in 1950, Pete and Ida were forced to move to a much smaller location in the Lyons neighborhood area on the north side of Clinton. But they also expanded their menu with spaghetti, chopped steaks and chicken. Their son, Bob Rastrelli, came home from the Navy and was telling his parents about this new food that he had during his travels, something called Pizza. With the candy business struggling, Pete began to learn how to make pizza and traveled to Chicago with a friend to look at different pizzerias and how they conducted business. Armed with enough knowledge on how to make pizza, Pete and Ida changed their business nearly overnight. Suddenly, Rastrelli's Revere Candy Shop became Rastrelli's Pizza Shop. It was an instant hit with the locals in Clinton.
Pete and Ida ended up buying and moving into the old Madden building in 1964, not far from their small shop. They added a number of items to the menu and the business boomed in the expanded location. Rastrelli's is located in the same building today.
The Rastrelli's, with the help of their children, made their own sauces for their Italian dishes and pizzas from scratch. They also ground their own sausage and beef for the pizzas and Italian food. That continues today as Pete and Ida's son, Peter, runs the family business.
One thing I found out is that Clinton's Main Street is nowhere near the downtown area. We were trying to find Main Street, but Cindy thought it was up to the north side. I didn't have Rastrelli's address, but I knew they were on Main Street. I punched in 220 Main in the GPS and it took us up to the north side and literally right to Rastrelli's which is located at 237 Main (see map).
It was about three in the afternoon and there was a number of people in the restaurant. We were seated in a booth in the main dining room and given menus. Our waitress came out with a basket of homemade bread - a Rastrelli's trademark. I had a piece and it was wonderful. So wonderful that I had to have another. I had to stop or I would have gotten full on bread and not been able to have the pizza.
Even though we were going to get pizza, I got to looking at the large amount of pasta dishes they have at Rastrelli's. My stomach took notice at the Pasta Carbonara - they take strips of smoked pork loin and saute them with garlic. Then they add fresh bacon, parsley, cheese, and creamy besciamella sauce served with homemade penne rigate pasta. Ooo, that sounded great. They also make a chicken carbonara instead of the pork carbonara.
Rastrelli's also does steaks, fish, chicken, sandwiches and burgers. They also have a pretty impressive salad bar toward the front of the dining area. I also noticed something on the menu called a Pizzaaaaaaaaaaarelli - it's basically a deep fried calzone stuffed with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, mozzarella cheese and sauce. I'm not certain how a deep fried calzone would really taste.
But we were going to get pizza, so we ordered up an Italian sausage and pepperoni pizza, a large (14"). Cindy also wanted a tossed house salad, but didn't want to go through the salad bar. She said, "The bread was bad enough. If I go through the salad bar I won't want to have any pizza!" The waitress said she'd bring a small dinner salad out topped with Rastrelli's homemade Italian dressing.
Cindy's salad was not bad and it wasn't long after she finished the pizza showed up at the table. It looked promising. There were big chunks of Italian sausage. There were a lot of pepperoni slices on top. The cheese had caramelized perfectly on top. I couldn't wait to dig in.
From the first bite I was sort of perplexed. Yeah, the crust was crisp, yet chewy. The sauce was, well, sort of bland. It wasn't tangy, it wasn't sweet. It wasn't even all that tomato-y. It was just sort of there. The Italian sausage was also bland. While Cindy said she could taste a hint of fennel in the meat, I got nothing. It was lifeless and flavorless. I was highly disappointed from what I was eating. After being told that Rastrelli's had some of the best thin crust pizza around, I have to say it was average, at best. There was no pizazz to the taste.
Although our waitress was thorough and pleasant, and Rastrelli's was a nice place to eat, I have to say that I was not impressed by their pizza. I was hoping that it would be worth the 45 minute drive up to Clinton from time to time, but I won't be heading to Rastrelli's for their pizza anytime soon.