Our good friend, Greg Hipskind, who is the drummer for both Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls and for Superfly Samurai, also moonlights from time to time with the Midwest touring group for Caroline's Spine. It turned out that "the Spine" was playing in Muscatine one evening earlier this fall and we made a point to go see him play. As we were looking for the spot where the show was supposed to be, we passed Salvatore's restaurant in Muscatine. Cindy said, "Hey, that's the pizza place that Toni from Antonella's (in downtown Davenport) was telling us about!"
I said, "You want to stop and get a pizza before we see the show?"
Cindy said, "Sure! Why not?"
Remo Vitale moved his family to Muscatine in the early 80's from their native Sicily and opened Salvatore Vitale's in 1985. The Vitale's had previously lived in the States until the late 70's where Remo ran an Italian restaurant in Carlinville in downstate Illinois. But his kids - sons Salvatore, Claudio, and daughter Antonia convinced their father to move back to the U.S. and the family settled in the Quad Cities area.
Salvatore (known to the locals as Sam) and Claudio Vitale, along with their wives, Francesca and Domenica, run the day to day operations with much of the menu filled with Vitale family recipes. Everything is homemade at Vitale's including the sauces and the mouthwatering desserts made daily by Francesca and Domenica. And it turns out that Toni at Antonella's in Davenport is actually Antonia Vitale-Sgro, the sister of the Vitale brothers who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Giovanni (John).
The Vitale's also co-own and operate Piazza Bella in Muscatine, a private banquet hall that the locals use for wedding receptions, parties and meetings. I understand they now open Piazza Bella from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch on Sundays. I don't know if it's a buffet or an "order from the menu" place, but it would be interesting to try.
After initially passing Salvatore's, we went around the block and parked in front of the place (see map). It was a little before 9:00 p.m. when we walked into Salvatore's. The knotty pine walls are covered with pictures of the Vitale family and Italian scenery. There's a fire place along the north wall of the restaurant and booths are along the south wall. We found a table near the fire place along the wall and Cindy had a good view back into the small bar/kitchen area while I looked out toward the front door. A young waitress came over and gave us a couple of menus and took our drink order. I had a beer while Cindy got a glass of their house red wine.
In addition to pizza on the menu, Salvatore's also has a number of classic Italian dishes to choose from including homemade ziti, fettuccine alfredo and lasagna. I almost jumped on the lasagna from the description - homemade meat sauce with four different types of Italian cheese blended together. Another thing that caught my eye was the portobella mushroom-stuffed ravioli from the stuffed pasta portion of the menu. They take portabella mushrooms and enclosed them in homemade ravioli's and then serve them topped with their homemade white cream sauce.
But Cindy wanted pizza so we got a 12" Italian sausage and pepperoni. Cindy also wanted a salad with the garlic dressing. She was thinking that it had to be the same recipe as the garlic dressing at Antonella's. The garlic dressing at Antonella's in Davenport is addictive, but very strong. I always have to get a bite of Cindy's or I can't stand being in the same room with her because whoever eats the stuff just reeks of garlic for the next 8 hours.
They brought out Cindy's salad and it was a nice presentation with a square concave plate topped with fresh greens and chopped tomatoes, drizzled with the garlic dressing. Cindy said it was just like Antonella's garlic dressing and I had to have a bite to make sure. Yes, it certainly was close, if not the same recipe.
After a bit, the pizza came out and it smelled very good. From the first glance, it looked exactly like the pizza at Antonella's - and not that there is anything wrong with that. The pizza at Antonella's can be very good at times and it's clearly our second most favorite pizza in the Quad Cities behind Van's (which is getting to be consistently good with their pizzas, by the way). The pizza at Salvatore's featured big chunks of sausage, a lot of pepperoni with a caramelized cheese and a crispy edge to the pizza.
The first bite also told me that it was similar but not the same as Antonella's. While the crust isn't super thin as I like, it was still soft and chewy. The Italian sausage and pepperoni were both fresh and flavorful. It was a very good pizza to say the least.
After dinner, Cindy decided she was still hungry. She looked over the dessert menu to see if anything would appeal to her. She saw the cannoli's on the menu and said, "I think I want one of those." Well, I was certainly stuffed from the pizza (I had a little more than Cindy did) and I wasn't certain I could eat any of the cannoli.
But when the waitress brought out the cannoli, it was too hard to resist taking at least a couple bites. The homemade cannoli was filled to the bursting point with ricotta cheese and drizzled with copious amounts of chocolate sauce. It rivaled cannoli's I've had at upscale Italian restaurants in much larger cities.
Our little side trip to Salvatore's was definitely worth it. We'd heard of a good pizza place in Muscatine for quite sometime and it was good to know that there's a connection between Antonella's and Salvatore's. While both are very similar, there's enough of a difference to justify a return trip to Muscatine to try some of the Vitale family's homemade Italian specialties. The pizza was great, the service was very good and the cannoli was the pièce de résistance. It was a wonderful experience in every respect.