It's always fun to find new places that I didn't know about before. On a recent visit to Chicago, I asked a dealer if he'd like to go get dinner somewhere. He said, "Do you like Italian?" I love Italian. He said, "It's nothing fancy, more of a spaghetti and meatballs kind of place. But I like it." We got in the car and he directed me to a restaurant just south of the corner of Wolf Road and Central Ave. in suburban Des Plaines (see map).
I pulled in to the parking lot and said, "Oh! Little Villa!"
My dealer said, "No, Bob Mele's Little Villa!"
I'm sure I've probably driven by the place in the past as Bob Mele's Little Villa has been around since 1959 serving home style Italian food and pizza. Little Villa's ingredients are always fresh and never frozen. It continues to be a family run business with Bob Mele's daughter, Barb, running the business today.
(By the way, there is a Little Villa Pizza place on S. Elmhurst Road in nearby Mount Prospect. I'm not certain that there's any connection between the two Little Villa's, but this is the Bob Mele's Little Villa restaurant in Des Plaines.)
It was around 7:45 when we got into Little Villa for dinner. The brightly lit dining room was inviting and comfortable with a number of tables and booths in the room. Little Villa also features a nice bar area with bar and table seating, as well as a basement banquet area for meetings, parties and receptions up to 75 people.
Our waitress for the evening, Barb, greeted us and dropped off dinner menus for us to look through. In addition to pizza (three styles - thin crust, pan pizza and stuffed), Bob Mele's Little Villa features entree dishes consisting of veal, chicken, steaks and chops, along with a long list of pasta dishes and house specialties. For the lighter fare, Little Villa also features a number of appetizers, salads, soups and sandwiches. Their lunch menu is what I would call as significantly different from their dinner menu with more of an emphasis on sandwiches, wraps, salads and panini sandwiches.
Because the menu is so extensive, I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to have. My guest, Jim, told me that he'd never had a bad meal in the place and that everything he's ever had was good. They had a number of different pastas to choose from - from spaghetti to mostaccioli to fettuccine to tortellini to... You get the picture. But they also had a number of choices of sauces to go with the pasta such as a meat sauce, marinara, alfredo, pesto, creamy vodka and a pomodoro sauce with crushed plum tomatoes, fresh garlic and basil.
I wasn't certain I wanted pasta that evening, so I was focusing more on the veal or chicken dishes. But I have to tell you - a couple guys seated in a booth near us got a thin crust pizza that looked damn good. I wanted something more substantial than pizza that evening and always figured that I could come back at some point and get one.
The veal dishes featured the usual piccata, marsala, parmigiana and Vesuvio - sauteed in wine, garlic and olive oil with a hint of tomato, then served with broasted potato wedges. The chicken dishes featured the same four styles along with chicken cacciatore, risotto with chicken, artichoke hearts and asparagus tips cooked in butter and white wine; and an Italian-style 1/2 chicken - your choice of fried or baked.
Jim told me that their lasagna topped with their meat sauce was "excellent". I looked over some of the other house specialties at Little Villa and saw that they had their own homemade manicotti stuffed with a flavored cheese, then topped with their meat sauce and mozzarella and baked. Ummm.... That sounded REAL good, too! And, of course, they had their own seafood fettuccine alfredo with shrimp. To make matters worse for me, I saw that Little Villa also offered combination dinners - your choice of two items from either Chicken Parmigiana, lasagna, manicotti, eggplant parmigiana or ravioli. The lasagna and manicotti were both screaming, "Pick me! Pick me!"
But once again, I was looking more at the veal end of things. I ended up selecting the veal piccata - veal medallions sauteed in white wine and lemon with capers. I got a pasta side - mostaccioli with my choice of the meat sauce or marinara (I got the meat sauce). And a choice of soup or salad. I got the salad with the homemade oil, vinegar and herb Italian.
My guest, Jim, got the chicken parmigiana with the meat sauce on his pasta. He got a salad with their homemade garlic dressing.
Like an old time Italian supper club, we were brought a bread basket and a small relish tray. Jim smiled broadly as they put the relish tray down on the table. "Isn't this just great? An old school Italian restaurant with a relish tray!" The bread basket featured homemade crunchy breadsticks, as well as soft Italian bread with sesame seeds and a couple rolled Italian breads. Olive oil and parmesan cheese were provided on the table to dip the bread in.
The relish tray featured a three bean salad, pepperocini's and - to my surprise - pickled beets. I wasn't interested in the beans at all, but I couldn't wait to dig into the pickled beets. The beets had more of an Italian dressing taste to them rather than the sweetness that I've grown to like with pickled beets I've had in the past. Actually, they were pretty good. They didn't have an earthy taste to them and I sort of liked the vinegar aftertaste.
Our salads were brought out and I have to say my salad was good, but was nothing special. The homemade Italian dressing was serviceable, but it was your typical run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant salad with fresh lettuce, onions, sliced cherry tomatoes and the like. Fresh ground pepper would have livened it up a bit for me.
Our entrees came out not long after we finished up with our salads. My veal dish (below left) featured three good sized veal medallions swimming in a wonderfully aromatic pool of the white wine and lemon sauce with capers. I couldn't wait to dip some bread into the sauce.
My veal was very good. The veal was tender and very flavorful, but the sauce that came with it was the real winner. It had a great lemon taste with a thick consistency to the sauce. And I was right - dipping the Italian bread in the sauce was a secondary treat. I was overly happy with my veal piccata.
The mostaccioli with the meat sauce was good, too. I did like the meat sauce they have at Little Villa - it was thick with the right combination of meat and tomato sauce.
Jim said that his chicken parm was very good, too. "It's so rich," he said. "There's no way that I can finish it." But he made a significant dent into it, leaving probably three or four bites left before he said, "No more!"
Our very efficient waitress, Barb, asked us if we had room for homemade tiramisu or a cannoli. Oh, God! I was tempted, but I was so stuffed and satiated from the meal. I had overdone it with the bread, but I could not stop sopping up the piccata sauce that came with my veal. It was so very, very good.
I went back on my own on another trip into Chicago to try Little Villa's pizza. I ordered up a small sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. They have both thin crust and deep dish pizza, so I got the thin crust.
It didn't take long to get my pizza out the table. (My server that evening, Kristen, was very good and efficient.) The pizza was loaded with cheese and toppings. The sausage was mild, the mushrooms fresh and there was plenty of pepperoni slices on the top. The crust was crispy with a little snap to it. While it wasn't the best pizza I've had in the Chicago area, it was still very good. A good rule of thumb for me is whether or not it tastes good with a beer. Little Villa's pizza certainly did.
So I've now tried the veal piccata and the pizza at Bob Mele's Little Villa. But I'm also intrigued by their lasagna and the maniccoti, too. There will definitely be more chances to visit the place. I was overly happy with my veal and the pizza on my initial visits to Little Villa. Barb and Kristen were both very good waitresses and the atmosphere was friendly. Bob Mele's Little Villa was a great find.