For many of us, Italian food is synonymous with love and comfort. A steaming plate of pasta with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up a rich tomato sauce is like a hug from Mom and a rustling of the hair from Dad.
As the adage goes, however, everything in moderation. Sometimes love can be too much, and my visit to Ferrari’s Little Italy and Bakery left me feeling a little smothered.
Ferrari’s is housed in what was a Mexican restaurant in the heart of Madeira, but they've put their Italian spin on the décor. A green awning greets guests and the walls have a faux finish, giving it (having never been to Tuscany) what I think of as a “Tuscan look.” We entered through Ferrari’s small grocery, featuring Italian specialties, and their bakery. A cupcake at least 5 inches tall made my mouth water and my stomach growl.
The ambiance of Ferrari’s is comfortable and casual. There were several guests at the small bar eating dinner and enjoying a Friday happy hour. As a sucker for eating at a cozy, dark wood bar, this is where I'll be when I give Ferrari’s another go-around.
The menu is expansive, offering antipasti, salads and gourmet pizza as well as fish, chicken, pasta and meat entrées. Of the many appetizers to consider, contenders were Stuffed Mushrooms Patricia ($9.75/$13.50), button mushrooms stuffed with breadcrumbs and mozzarella cheese and Scampi Antonio ($14.50/$18.50), shrimp and scallops sautéed with garlic, white wine and parmesan cheese and served on toast points. We chose the small order of Toasted Ravioli ($10.50) and Bruschetta ($8.95).
Ferrari’s bread is really something to brag about. Their bakery makes it on site and it's exceptional — especially the olive and garlic loaves.
The vegetable stuffing in the Toasted Ravioli was flavorful and not lost in the breading, but the Bruschetta (topped with tomatoes, kalamata olives, basil, olive oil and mozzarella) was surprisingly heavy. Melted mozzarella cheese dominated the dish. I couldn’t taste the olives, and the only reason I knew there were tomatoes present was when one fell out from underneath the cheese. Needless to say, this wasn't the light bruschetta found on many Italian menus.
I absolutely love eggplant parmesan, so I already knew what I was ordering. Ferrari’s breads their Eggplant Parmesan in Milanese breadcrumbs, tops it with provolone cheese and marinara sauce, and serves it with a heaping portion of penne pasta ($17.50/$22.50). My companion chose the Pollo Basilico ($20.95/$28.50) with roasted chicken tossed in rigatoni pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, spinach and pesto cream sauce.
All meals, except meat entrées and pizza, are served in small sizes (piccola) or in larger, family-style servings (grande). In most cases, unless you're absolutely famished or want leftovers for lunch and a light dinner, I would recommend sharing a small entrée. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the Pollo Basilico leftovers made for three more meals.
The Eggplant Parmesan was certainly fried, and I was disappointed by how heavy it was. The eggplant was over-breaded and not as tender as I like it to be. A not-so-piccola portion of pasta was awash in marinara that didn’t impress. “Too much of a good thing” might apply here.
My companion also felt his entrée was heavy. While the chicken was well cooked and the pesto cream sauce was rich, too much sauce drowned out the flavor of the rigatoni, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. A tip: Order light appetizers, or perhaps none at all, so you're sure to appreciate the bounty of your entrée.
For dessert, Ferrari’s offers homemade gelato, cheesecake and tiramisu, just to name a few. We ordered the Gelato and Chocolate Indulgence ($6 each). The gelato is served in a martini glass loaded with one scoop each of pistachio, red raspberry and chocolate. It was creamy and rich, and each flavor was vibrant and refreshing. The Chocolate Indulgence is a sponge cake layered with chocolate mousse and a rich dark chocolate icing, and the raspberry sauce accentuates the chocolate nicely.
I know people who will defend Ferrari’s to the end, so when I give Ferrari’s a second try I'll be sure to stick with the lighter offerings. Perhaps sitting in their garden patio next to the train tracks will enlighten me to this much-beloved and quintessentially American-Italian Cincinnati staple.
FERRARI'S LITTLE ITALY AND BAKERY
Go: 7677 Goff Terrace, Madeira
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 4-9 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $10.75-$31.50
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible