- During happy hour at the new Cafe Italia, a pizza calabrese topped with spinach, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, olives and feta, is offered for $9.95.
Somehow, miraculously, a few of the tropical fish in the big tank behind the bar in the former Shogun Japanese Steakhouse building at 601 English Landing Drive in downtown Parkville survived, even after the building sat empty for months. "I don't know if the bigger fish ate the smaller fish or what," one of the servers whispered to me. "But as soon as Guy and Paul took over the building, we got the surviving fish fed and everything in working order again."
Guy and Paul - Guy Tamburello and Paul Anselmo, who operated the original Cafe Italian on North Oak Trafficway for 17 years - have turned the free-standing brick building into a far more attractive and comfortable trattoria than the original venue ever was, including a terrific outdoor patio. The new Cafe Italia opened last autumn.
Right next door, in the combination frame house and railway car that has been home to numerous short-lived restaurants over the last decade, a former tenant, Colombian-born restaurateur Alfonso "Pancho" Restropo, has returned to the same building, at 100 South Main, where he operated Pancho's Mexican Restaurant from 1992 to 2003. Last year, his daughter Vicki encouraged Restropo to return to Kansas City when the space became vacant once again; Alfonso was living in Las Vegas. "Three weeks later, I had signed a lease and was getting to reopen the space with my wife and four children," he says. Since the name Pancho's was no longer available, Restropo renamed his business Pancho's Villa. It opened in December.
Guy, Paul and "Pancho" are familiar restaurant personalities in the Kansas City area. After taking a break from the business, all three restaurateurs are back in business - in the heart of Parkville's main drag. And so far, business has been good.
Tamburello and Anselmo removed all the teppan-yaki grilling tables from the building and all the shiny steel exhaust hoods, except one. The remaining hood is positioned over a corner of the restaurant now utilized for baking pizza and miniature loaves of yeasty bread and rolling out fresh, handmade pasta. The fragrance of the baking bread and pizza crust wafting through the dining room is intoxicating.
- The stuffed artichoke on Cafe Italia's happy-hour menu.
The menu of the new Cafe Italia isn't so different from its Gladstone predecessor, but this new incarnation does not serve brunch. It does, however offer a first-rate happy-hour menu each week, Monday through Friday only, from 4 to 6 p.m. (This menu is only offered in the bar or out on the sunny patio). The items include a buttery stuffed artichoke for $7.95, a marinated caponata salad - chopped eggplant, tomatoes, celery, olives and onion that can be spread on crostini - for $3.95, a miniature order of chicken spiedini for $6.95 and six hand-tossed, 10-inch pizza selections ranging from a pizza Margherita with fresh buffalo mozzarella to a spicy puttanesca
pizza topped with olives, anchovy, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, basil and mozzarella. All of the pizza choices are under $10.
- The El Mucho Macho burrito at Pancho's Villa.
Across the parking lot, Alfonso Restrepo and his family serve one menu all day, mostly traditional Mexican dishes, although Restropo has been testing the waters by offering a Colombian-influenced dinner special every so often. Several of the signature dishes here are named after characters in novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ("You would be surprised," Restrepo says, "how few people recognize those names." No, I wasn't
A dish that isn't named for a literary character - but, possibly, a pornographic one - is the El Mucho Macho, a hefty burrito that nearly fills up a 13-inch platter. The meals here range in price from $8.75 to $10.75. A basket of corn chips is served with a truly boring little dish of salsa, so be sure to ask instead for one of the three snazzier sauces: a smoky chipotle, a punchy roasted red pepper, or the searing green habanero version.