After all these years, Palermo Villa still has it
In the increasingly chain-dominated restaurant industry, I find myself drawn more and more to family owned establishments, especially those with a lengthy history and a good, neighborhood vibe to them.
Palermo Villa, 2315 N. Murray Ave., captures a warm, welcoming atmosphere, places familiar faces behind the bar and serves good, solid Italian food that can warm up even the chilliest of Milwaukee evenings.
For over 35 years, Kathleen Mirenda and her brother, Dean Cannestra (who owns Libiamo and Nessun Dorma), have been overseeing Palermo Villa's eggplant strips, pastas and pizzas, making this homey establishment a great place to grab a quick bite on the East Side.
And while Cannestra spends more time these days at Libiamo, little else has changed at Palermo Villa over the years, including their propensity to decorate for Christmas and Halloween and leave those decorations up long after the holidays have passed.
Appetizers are straightforward Italian: antipasto, fried eggplant, calamari and mozzarella marinara round out their offerings; but, Palermo also offers several appetizer breads. The breads are diced up versions of garlic bread with toppings like pesto, sliced tomato, and of course, cheese. Palermo's calamari ($9.50) is crisp and light, and served with choice of marinara or tartar sauce.
Hot tomato bread ($6.50) was a little bland, but in some bites which held a bit more garlic, the flavors were great. I longed for that flavor throughout the bread. Antipasto ($8.50) was a bit underwhelming, with the tomatoes slightly bitter, and just four small skewers of salami making up the entire meat selection of the platter.
Pasta offerings at Palermo offer an excellent selection of traditional dishes like carbonara (bacon, onion and garlic in an egg cream sauce), aglio e olio (olive oil, garlic and herbs) and marinara, the latter of which can be layered a là carte with meatballs, Italian sausage or meat and mushrooms. When it comes to comfort food, there's little better than a piping hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and while many restaurants don't carry this simplistic duo, you can always find it at Palermo Villa.
We sampled entrées of veal Marsala ($19.50), and chicken parmigiana ($14.50). The meats are interchangeable in these two dishes, with the chicken Marsala ringing in at $14.50, and the veal parmigiana at $19.50. Entrées come with a complementary dinner salad and a warm Italian bread basket.
The veal medallions were pounded thin and golden brown beneath the marsala sauce and a trio of peppers, mushrooms and onions. Unlike some restaurant Marsalas, this dish contained no cream for a lovely, heady Marsala wine taste in the sauce, and throughout the thin strands of linguini.
The chicken parmigiana maintained a crisp, deeply browned exterior despite layers of rich melted cheese and red sauce for wonderful results.
But even though the pasta dishes are well above average, my favorite option at Palermo Villa remains the pizzas. With a choice of thick or thin crust, a slightly sweet sauce and generous toppings and cheese, this remains a great option for pies in Milwaukee even after all these years.
The Palermo (12" $15.75, 14" $17.50, 16" $19.25) layers cheese, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and onions, for a flavorful, classic pizza. My favorite option, the Pizza Florentine (12"$14.75, 14" $16.50, 16" $18.25), with fresh spinach, three cheeses and red sauce, is even more divine when paired up with artichoke hearts for an extra couple dollars.
This type of simple, well-executed Italian food is what makes Palermo Villa a great place. When you add to that the friendly service, and the benefit of supporting a local, small business owner, this restaurant should easily make your short list for comfort food stops on Milwaukee's east side. Now if only they'd take down their Christmas decorations.
We have been dining @ Palermo Villa and taking out pizza since day one when we lived within walking distance. The fried calamari is delicious. Where else can you get tasty salads that include polpi (octopus) and conch? Among our favorite pasta entrees are the calamari in marinara, white clam sauce, the meatballs and the carbonara. But if they have speidini as a special we don't even bother to look at the menu; we know how wonderful they are. For dessert order a basket of warm "comfort food" called "sfingi". It's bread dough, fried, sugared and perfect to share. So they like lights - to us it's simply part of the ambience. You should see what their Christmas decorations really look like. Or - their Halloween!. See their outdoor lit pumpkins that spell out Palermo Villa.! Dining at Palermo Villa is like visiting the kitchen of an immigrant Sicilian grandmother. Warm, inviting and tasty.
Service...food....price...atmosphere....everything is excellent and I have never had a bad experience!!!
Palermo Villa is one of my favorite places for Italian. The service and the food are very consistent. It's a cozy spot and I disagree with Amy's opinion on the Christmas lights...I think it adds to the charm.
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