June 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Throughout American history, Italian food has been one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the states. Like in America, Italy has different agricultural and culinary regions. Southern Italian food is typically what we see here in America. Dishes like pizzas, pastas with zesty marinara sauce and eggplant parmesan are what most Italian restaurants in America feature. The north of Italy is more mountainous and is close in proximity to France. This area is known for its meats, sausages, cream sauces, butter sauces, and hard cheeses. Personally, I have always preferred the food from the North and find it more interesting and diverse.

True Northern Italian restaurants are not nearly as well represented in America, especially here in Omaha. When Chef/owner Dario Schicke and Chef Ben Maides opened Avoli Osteria in Dundee, they brought true Northern Italian cuisine to Omaha, and they did it right. It is obvious to this reviewer that a lot of painstaking research, planning, and extensive travel went into the opening of this nationally acclaimed restaurant.

The designers also knew what they were doing since the restaurant is very handsome with its painted cement floors, marble tabletops, and black wooden chairs. I particularly enjoyed the eccentric collection of formal chandeliers randomly hanging from the ceiling. For me, combined with the tea candles, they give the restaurant a classy yet funky look. I would be willing to bet that you could find a restaurant in Piemonte that closely resembles this one because it does have a true Northern Italy feel.

Enough of the fluff, let’s talk about the food, because that’s where this restaurant really shines. On a recent visit, my dining partner and I started off with their Beet Salad, $9. This delicious salad features arugula, ricotta cheese, and eggplant. We also had the Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta, $11. I am a big fan of bruschetta and this might be some of the best I have ever tried. We also sampled the Ravioli di Zucca, $15. This incredible dish featured hand-made ravioli stuffed with butternut squash in an amazing brown butter sauce with pumpkin seed and fresh grated parmesan. For the second course we had the Grilliata Misto, $31. This platter featured a melt-in-your-mouth hanger steak, a savory house-made sausage, and a perfectly prepared portion of fresh mackerel. This is a selection to get if you really want to see what Northern Italian cuisine is all about. We also tried the Mezzaluna Tirolese, $13. These delicate half moon shaped pastas were stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, tossed in a light broth sauce, then topped with a tomato concasse and fresh grated pecorino Romano. As if all that was not enough we also indulged in the Whiskey and Honey Chocolate Cake, $8. This delectable dessert also featured an olive and Sea Salt Gelato. All I can say is that if they have this dessert when you are there, don’t even hesitate, just get it!

As you might expect the well-curated wine list features labels from the northern growing regions of Italy, including wines from the Piemonte, Toscana, Fruili, Veneto, and Alto Adige regions of Italy. If you are not familiar with these wines, fear not, as the servers are all very friendly and will happily guide you through the list. Speaking of the service, it also receives my top marks. I was blown away with the depth of menu and wine knowledge my server possessed and her attentiveness was also appreciated.

These days, Omaha’s restaurant scene is at the highest level that I have ever seen it. There are so many great restaurants here for us to enjoy that it sometimes makes choosing difficult. That being said, I consider Avoli Osteria to be the most important new restaurant in our area and one that every Omahan should be sure to check out. Cheers!!