If you want a taste of the Abruzzo, that central Italian region stretching from the mountains to the sea, stop at Scartozzi's Trattoria in Michigan City, Ind. The food is so authentic, you'll leave speaking Italian. Almost.
Chef Joe Scartozzi and his mother, Cesira Scartozzi, deliver an excellent product prepared with care and in huge portions. Minestrone is always on the menu, but I started with the daily special -- Chicken Soup with Shells ($3.29/cup or $5.99/quart) that was iridiscent with rich chicken fat, and brimming with carrots, celery, onion and pasta. The stock had that cooked-for-hours flavor (no MSG-laden bases here) and it was so filling, I should have stopped there, but I had to press on.
Sausage and Peppers with Penne Pasta ($9.95) was an enormous portion of sausage made to spec by Battaglia Sausage company, large pieces of peppers and a thick, rich sauce, accompanied by housemade focaccia. It satisfied every craving I had for this childhood favorite of mine but the portion was so large, I had to take the rest home.
But the Eggplant Lasagna ($9.95) had been recommended to me, so I bought one to go. It was phenomenal and the portion easily could feed four. When Cesira Scartozzi told me she makes her regular Lasagna ($12.95) a little differently (mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan instead of ricotta) with her homemade lasagna noodles, you can be assured that went home with me, too. They gave it to me unbaked with directions for cooking at home. I froze it and enjoyed it several days later with three other people. All it needed was a side salad and a slice of bread. Mama mia! Good stuff.
But there's so much more to be had here including seldom-seen offerings like Mussels in White Wine Butter Sauce ($8.95), Caprese Salad ($5.95), Fettucine alla Tullio ($10.95) tossed with balsamic cream sauce, mushrooms, prosciutto and tomatoes, Chicken Saltimbocca ($13.99), chicken breast with prosciutto and provolone with spinach and potato, and veal many ways. I hear the Chicken Parmesan ($12.49) is out of this world.
Old standbys include oven-baked sandwiches, cold-cut sandwiches, ravioli, stuffed shells, pastas (ask about gluten-free) with eight sauce options including red clam and white clam sauces.
You won't find pizza at this cozy four-table restaurant and that's a good thing -- all of their creative talents can be focused on producing quality food in the Abruzzi style -- red sauces and lots of meat.
Amenities include catering, carryout, large parking, main courses available in 1/4 pan, 1/2 pan and full pan sizes. This is not a fast-food restaurant. Everything is prepared à la minute from scratch. So if you have to wait a bit, slip on over to Maple City Roasters next door and watch, smell and listen as coffee is roasted almost daily.
If you're really lucky, and if Cesira Scartozzi recognizes you as a kindred foodie, she will regale you with culinary tales of her native Italy. This is a place to come back to over and over again. It's a bit like sitting at nonna's kitchen table. Go! Mangia bene!
Address: 822 Karwick Road, Michigan City, IN 46360
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 1-8:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, closed Mondays and Tuesdays