In today's tough economy, when many restaurants are struggling from year to year, reaching a 10th anniversary is an accomplishment.
If an independent eatery makes it to the 20th year, that's even more impressive. The 40th year is a major milestone. That's why it's time to pop the corks and propose a well-deserved toast to Roberto's, now observing its 47th year at the same Elmhurst address.
Does this resilient restaurant have a strategy or secret that keeps it surviving for nearly half a century? A recent return visit provided some clues.
Tradition is a key to longevity in the risky dining business, and Roberto's is indeed steeped in tradition. It has avoided nouveau cuisine, ethnic-hybrid dishes and other fads that have forced many ventures to turn out the lights for good.
Since 1962, Roberto's has promised and delivered nothing more than exceptionally good food at reasonable rates. The menu abounds with classical Italian favorites, prepared from family recipes by an Italian chef. No frills, gimmicks, boasts or ballyhoo.
Piled-high portions, efficient service and sincere hospitality that makes you feel welcomed and appreciated are more reasons this neighborhood place attracts diners from distant neighborhoods.
Last but not least is the ownership. Palermo native Vito Moreci is the founder and host, his son Pasquale is executive chef. They're assisted by a dedicated, top-notch staff.
The setting is gracious and handsome. Three rooms seating 200 resonate with a cafe-inspired harmony of brownish tones, white linen, comfy furnishings and understated elegance. Pictures of Sicilian scenes authenticate the atmosphere.
The menu avoids monotony with a dozen or so nightly specials that define Roberto's creative cuisine. Two first-course, first-rate winners are Calamari Ripieno alla Mare and Burrata con Caponata e Pomodorini.
The calamari rises from the ordinary by stuffing whole squid with sausage and crabmeat, escorted by spinach and arugula salad, caressed with a roasted tomato-honey mixture. In the burrata, the buttery buffalo mozzarella is supported by fresh beefsteak tomato slices, Sicilian vegetables and crispy flat bread.
Entrees are ambitious, especially Risotto Zafferrano con Capesante, translating into organic Arborio rice intermingled with asparagus, roasted plum tomatoes and grilled scallops, seasoned with a whisper of saffron.
The Braciole is Sicilian in pedigree and tops in taste. Flank steak is rolled with ham, fontina cheese, breading, pine nuts and raisins in tomato gravy amplified with neck bones and accompanied by pennette noodles.
Desserts are as enticing as the rest of the program. The tiramisu is rich, creamy and begs to be shared, while pastry shells packed with a compote of berries and currants are semi-tart and tantalizing.
Roberto's, 483 Spring Rd., Elmhurst, serves lunch Sunday to Friday, dinner every evening. Entrees range from $12 to $36. Valet parking is on the house Friday and Saturday. Reservations recommended. (630) 279-8486.