Restaurant review: Pietro’s Italian Restaurant

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It was the worst Saturday I had worked in a long time. I was two and a half hours out of town working in Grand Rapids. I was alone, and the customer flow was so high I never got a chance to take a lunch. By the time my shift was done, I was famished. I got some good food ideas from the customers, but one suggestion stood out to me: Pietro’s Italian Restaurant.  I’ve tried my fair share of Italian places with mixed results, and Italian usually isn’t my first choice. The customer’s enthusiasm about Pietro’s intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try. To my surprise, Pietro’s turned out to be a crown jewel of Grand Rapids.

Aesthetically, Pietro’s is quite beautiful in a rustic old-world way. The lighting is low, and the colors are muted beiges, browns and off-whites. It wears its Italian roots proudly on the walls with pictures invoking a sense of history, and the architecture feels like it was shipped in from Italy. Visually, the restaurant would not feel out of place in a classic mob film like “Goodfellas” or “The Godfather.” What I really love about Pietro’s is that while it’s nice and fancy, it never felt uptight or pretentious like some places I’ve been to. That made it more welcoming from the start.

Even for a restaurant that invokes a vintage feel, they embrace technology with menus that are on tablets instead of the traditional fold out style. It took a minute to navigate the menu because it’s quite in depth, but I praise the extra effort that went into making it. The only confusing things about Pietro’s is that is has two entrances: one in the front and one in the side. You’re supposed to go through the front to be serviced but I accidentally went through the side. I chose that entrance based on where I parked. It was a small error, and somebody got me taken care of quickly once they realized I was lost.

The first thing I ordered was the Linguine al Fresco, a very hearty pasta with chicken broth. It included garlic, roma tomatoes, shallots and basil. It was topped with parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, and as a bonus I paid extra to have sautéed shrimp added. The simple combination of ingredients worked well soaked in the chicken broth. The shrimp really added that extra bit flavor for me, making it quite memorable.

The pasta was served with their own house bread, a round-shaped type of roll. Think of the rolls you can buy in a twelve pack at the grocery before Thanksgiving or Christmas. Similar concept, but this was a home baked style instead of processed, with Italian butter added. It’s much chewier and tasted richer than the generic store-bought variant. I also added a house salad, which is a standard mixture of greens with a house Italian dressing. The salad was fine, it just wasn’t anything special compared to everything else. The salad portion was also a bit smaller than I expected.

Next, I tried their New York Style goodfellas pizza with a side of garlic breadsticks. The goodfellas pizza had Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, shredded mozzarella and genoa salami. It was topped with fresh basil and parmesan. While the toppings might be standard fare, the salami distinctly stood out with each bite. It was slightly different enough while still retaining that familiarity with classic pizza combinations. I’ve had some pizzas that either went too “out there” with the toppings or had one odd topping that threw everything off. Again, Pietro’s did what it does best: simplicity. The pizza had your standard crunch with decent red sauce, making it on par with other Italian style restaurants.

The garlic breadsticks were a fantastic side dish to the pizza. The portions are very generous, around fourteen sticks or so. There was enough there that the intention must be to share amongst a few people. These breadsticks are rolled in parmesan and garlic butter with seasonings. What really surprised me was the variety of taste each breadstick gave. Some breadsticks were burnt just enough to give that good crunching sound if you like them more on the solid side. Others were soft and easy to chew, giving you a more subtle taste that emphasizes the garlic butter. I know some demand absolute consistency with their food, so this might not be for everyone. I loved the variance because it added a bit of mystery. I ate way more breadsticks than I intended because of it.

For any new restaurant, I always try to take something home to give it the “leftover” test. This helps determine the lasting impact of any dish, because some are practically inedible if they aren’t consumed when first served. Excluding the house salad, I took a little bit of everything home with me. I can easily say everything was fantastic being warmed up the next day. Now, with the pizza and breadsticks, I tried them both hot and cold. The breadsticks were great both ways, but the pizza was noticeably better warmed up than eating it cold. Usually pizza is great cold, and there are loads of people who’d argue it’s the superior way of consumption. I was expecting the pizza to be better cold, but it left something to be desired compared to eating it hot again. Overall, everything passed the leftover test.

I did splurge a bit on dinner that night, which isn’t standard for me, but I have no regrets because of the day that led up to it. Though the breadsticks were my favorite part of the meal, the pasta was the most nostalgic.  I grew up eating pasta and red sauce for most Sundays of my life. When you’re raised by an Italian father, it comes with the territory. Pasta is one of those foods that is hard to screw up, but sometimes it happens. With my background I can tell when pasta is good, when it’s lacking, and when it needs to find a trash bin to throw itself in. Yet, with the Linguine al Fresco, it is the closest I’ve had to my father’s authentic Italian cooking since his death earlier this year. It was the most unexpected dose of nostalgia that made an already great experience into a fantastic one. I know if I’m ever on that side of town again, I will be eating at Pietro’s.