Sharon Risinger and her husband Scott know a thing or two about making restaurants work. As the former owner of the long-time successful and popular Third Avenue Cafe (which she sold), as well as formerly running the Bluegrass Brewing Company on Fourth Street, they know what it takes to succeed. Fourteen years in the service industry does that. But in 2006 they decided to focus on only one restaurant and opted to open an Italian eatery in Old Louisville. Nevermind that the area was known as â€œLouisvilleâ€™s Bermuda Triangle,â€ as Risinger describes it.
â€œWhen we first moved here no restaurant had ever made it here,â€ explains Sharon Risinger. â€œBut I like to prove people wrong.Â Good food always sells and if people have a good time and feel welcome and enjoy their experience, they come back.â€ For Risinger the choice in cuisine was also an easy one. â€œI come from an Italian restaurant background.Â My executive chef Eric Turner, his grandfather is Italian also.â€Â Risinger is looking forward to continuing serving the comfortable, wholesome and family orientated food that has led her to stay open for the eighth year. She invited The Voice-Tribune to sample some of her hearty fare.
For an appetizer we were served a Parmesan polenta cake, consisting of a fried three cheese polenta, served with a homemade tomato ragu ($7). The segments of the golden polenta were crispy to the touch but extremely succulent in the middle â€“ owing to the molten cheeses â€“ while the ragu was given a huge lift with zesty cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. Both worked well together and set the tone for the rest of the meal.
Following the appetizer we were treated to a pair of salads. The first was a spinach and gorgonzola ($8.50), consisting of baby spinach leaves, sliced pears, roasted red peppers and red onions â€“ and topped with pine nuts. Though it came with a zesty homemade lemon and olive oil dressing, the salad works equally well without. The sweetness of the pears was undercut with the bite of the red onion, while the pine nuts added varied texture alongside the roasted peppers. A sizeable portion made it all the better. The second salad was the â€œtricolorâ€ salad ($8.50) â€“ fresh and generously thick slices of mozzarella accompanied by avocado on mixed greens. The organic herb dressing added moisture to the fleshy mozzarella and creamy avocado, both a perfect accompaniment to the final entrees.
These were two dishes that encapsulated the northern Italian cuisine that Amici is so passionate about: gnocchi aglio e olio ($15), as well as the Risingersâ€™ house speciality â€“ manicotti gambero ($17). The gnocchi were deliciously fluffy and delicate and served in fragrant oil along with minced garlic, served on a bed of wilted spinach with caramelized onions. As for the manicotti, they came stuffed with a generous amount of herb-infused ricotta and served with cream sauce and grilled shrimp. While undeniably rich, it was not overbearing and far from heavy, while the portion was so generous that those on a budget would have no problem sharing. Either way diners will be walking away satisfied.
If the above selections are not to your taste (though hard to believe), or youâ€™re looking for traditional fare, you will not be disappointed. Pizzas ($13) are made fresh in the kitchen while more obvious Italian fare is on offer too such as spaghetti and meatballs ($14.50).
The Risingers have tried to create a small enclave of northern Italy in Old Louisville.Â At the very least, theyâ€™ve succeeded.
316 West Ormsby Avenue
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune