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Dishing It Out

And taking it at Dino's Grill.

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Why are so many different versions of Italian dishes found in restaurants today? Maybe because those who dish it out take it personally -- creating recipes with a faithfully individual touch. Dino's Italian fare is no different. Dino's is as unique as its owners -- Rudy, Mario, and Dino Grisanti. Plus, Dino's has been in existence in Memphis for over 25 years, as loyal to the community as it is to the cuisine.

Dino's has the feel of an old-time diner, from its swinging doors to its seat-yourself atmosphere. With two dining rooms to choose from, both seating approximately 40 each, there's plenty of space for a party of two or a large family.

For starters, we ordered the toasted ravioli and the mozzarella sticks. The ravioli pillows were tasty and stuffed with warm spinach, garlic, and Parmesan, instead of the traditional ricotta cheese, beef, or Italian sausage. A simple tomato meat sauce flavored with an abundance of garlic accompanied the ravioli. The mozzarella sticks were lightly breaded and accompanied alla marinara. (Alla marinara refers to a simply prepared, "sailor style" tomato sauce served with herbs.) Dino's sauce had an interesting twist, featuring large chunks of celery and onion in addition to the tomatoes, garlic, and thyme.

Dino's menu offers many homemade Italian favorites, including ravioli, chicken Parmesan, spaghetti tossed with garlic butter, marinara, or meat sauce, lasagna, and fettuccini Alfredo. The entrées come with a house Italian salad, though you can opt for the tossed salad. The house salad contains iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, green olives, black olives, sliced banana peppers, celery, and diced Italian salami and is covered with a tangy vinaigrette (usually a combination of oil, salt, pepper, mustard, and herbs). The salad was fresh and tasty. The tanginess of the vinaigrette enhanced the flavors of the salami and the vegetables.

Our first entrée, spaghetti and meatballs, was plentiful, though the pasta was overcooked. Pasta is preferably served al dente or cooked only until firm, not soft or overdone. Two large, fragrant meatballs, heavily flavored with garlic, are served in a traditional red sauce. (If you are a big eater, I would suggest ordering an additional side of meatballs.) The red sauce was hearty and flavored with hints of oregano, onion, thyme, salt, and black pepper.

PHOTOS BY JOHN LANDRIGAN
A distinctly different entrée but one full of flavor was the fettuccini Alfredo topped with slices of grilled chicken breast. The traditional bleached, wide pasta noodles intermingled with broad spinach noodles and both came al dente. An Alfredo sauce incorporating heavy cream, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and butter bound the pastas, which were topped with pieces of grilled chicken. The delicate aroma of the cream, grilled chicken, cheese, and garlic tantalized the senses. Now that's amore.

The veal Parmesan, however, proved to be our favorite. Thin slices of veal cutlets, pounded flat and dredged through egg and breadcrumbs then sautéed on both sides until golden brown, were placed adjacent to a bed of spaghetti with meat sauce. The veal had its own covering of marinara tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and was so tender you could slice it with a fork -- no knife necessary. I would recommend this dish to anyone who is a fan of veal Parmesan; it's one of the best I've eaten.

One surprise at Dino's is their version of Italian bread, which is served in thick slices (like Texas toast), heavily buttered and grilled. Patrons devour it even though it is not the traditional bread companion found at other Italian restaurants.

Although the chefs at Dino's prepare all the desserts, shame on them for not having any Italian desserts on the menu. Where is the tiramisu, cannoli, and spumoni? We ordered the key lime pie, New York-style cheesecake, carrot cake, and pecan pie. The thin slice of tangy key lime pie laid the foundation for star-shaped dollops of whipped cream. And while the light corn syrup and egg mixture capped by toasted pecans of the pecan pie melted in your mouth, the sinfully dense and rich cheesecake was a little too sweet. The carrot cake's raisins, cloves, cinnamon, and walnuts were nestled between layers of lightly applied cream cheese frosting.

Dino's Grill is located at 645 N. McLean Blvd. and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Beer is offered but there is no full bar available. Dino's does permit patrons to bring their own wine.


food notes

Fast Food

For those of you in a rush at lunchtime, Cafe Olé wants your business. The restaurant is offering "A Power Lunch Beyond Your Expectations." Just make your reservation (requires a credit card number), pre-order from Cafe Olé's lunch menu, and then show up. Cafe Olé manager Deloris Boyce guarantees that your food will be served within10 minutes of the reservation time.

Boyce says that response to the deal has been slow, despite the offer being on the table -- literally, there's a card announcing the lunch on each table -- for over a month. "No more than two" V.I.P. lunches have been served. Boyce says that most do not want to give out a credit card number over the phone. In addition, she says that there has not been as much advertisement for the offer as she might like. Still, Cafe Olé will continue its V.I.P. lunches. "We're going to keep with it," Boyce says. "If it works, it works." You can reserve a table Monday through Friday during lunch hours by calling 274-1504.

-- Chris Przybyszewski

Risky Business

First impression of Yellow Fever Mesquite Smoked Pepper Mustard Sauce: horror, thoughts of certain death. First taste: delicious!

The maker of the sauce, Feverish Foods, is a one-man operation that's been in business for about two years. Jeff McGovern had been concocting the very tasty and unique stuff for about three years, but in 1999, he began marketing it.

But what's up with that off-putting name? "I just thought of it," says McGovern. "It's kind of in bad taste, but it tastes good. The mosquitoes carried the fever and the mesquite-smoked yellow habañero peppers carry the flavor." Okay.

McGovern says Yellow Fever is selling well. He attributes that success to the fact that it's very unusual, versatile, and there's nothing else like it.

What's in the future for Feverish Foods? A small-pox sauce? "No, no, no, no ... no more diseases," says McGovern, "but I'm thinking about doing a Jamaican jerk paste and a hot sauce."

You can purchase Yellow Fever at Cheffie's Market, Miss Cordelia's in Harbor Town, and some area grocery stores. For info, call 758- 9661.

-- Jeremy Spencer

The Great Outdoors

Forget for a second the acts playing at the brand-new Live at the Garden outdoors-concert series at the Botanic Garden -- Isaac Hayes, Kallen Esperian, and the Robert Cray Band, among them -- to focus on the food. Simply, this series is no ordinary corndog-and-turkey-leg affair. While taking in the music, patrons can head straight to the wine bar and then chow down on food offered by vendors such as Sekisui, Corky's, and Automatic Slim's (or bring their own picnics).

And then there's the Encore Club Lounge. Located in the garden's Hardin Hall, the club will have a bar and fancy finger food (Chez Philippe has signed on) and a staff so full that even the bathroom will be manned. Designer William R. Eubanks is in charge of atmosphere, providing a different lounge-y setting for each concert. But most important of all, since the series occurs when it is barbarically hot (June-September), there will be air conditioning.

The Encore Club Lounge will cost you, though. Starting price of the four levels of membership -- Bravo, Orchestra, Maestro, Impresario -- is $5,000.

Live at the Garden kicks off with Isaac Hayes on June 15th. For more information, call 685-1566.

-- Susan Ellis

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