By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
DELAND - Milwaukee Avenue is one of the longest streets in Chicago and once led - as an Indian trail - to the city of Milwaukee, Wis. DeLand's Artisan Inn owner Larry Berube once owned a bar there, one of 18 between two intersections. He had to compete. And he had to get along.
Woodland Boulevard in DeLand is also a major thoroughfare, on a smaller scale. Traffic on a hot Friday afternoon is steady and noisy, so to open the door of the historic Artisan Inn and step inside the cool, quiet vestibule is to find immediate respite.
The tiled entryway neatly separates the Red Zone Sports Bar on the right from Manderini's Italian Restaurant on the left. Upstairs are the Ace of Clubs, DeLand's newest nightclub, and the hotel's eight luxurious 3-room suites.
Manderini's consists of two rooms, a cozy interior space with warm Mediterranean tones on the walls, six-person booths and soft lighting, and a more open area with the building's original brick on a wall of windows that provide an expansive view of downtown DeLand.
Mr. Berube purchased the building in August from the Soety brothers, who painstakingly restored the 1924 treasure in 1996 after years of neglect had rendered it a local eyesore. He wanted to open a nightclub.
"This building was ideal because of the second floor banquet hall. I put the club inside the banquet hall, and it was a perfect fit," Mr. Berube said.
Manderini's opened six weeks ago. Bringing years of bar and restaurant experience to the table, Mr. Berube knows how to endure.
"There are a lot of Italian restaurants in Chicago," he said. "If you don't have good food, you're done in two weeks because there are 30 within walking distance."
Some dinner menu selections include Baked Ziti, Lasagna, Spaghetti, Chicken and Eggplant Florentines, Shrimp Athenia, Scampi, Stuffed Shells, Broccoli Cheese Stuffed Tortellini, Chicken Alfredo and Chicken Parmesan. Entrees range in price from $10.99 to $14.49.
As for the pizza, "We don't use pizza sauce," Mr. Berube said. "We use marinara sauce instead and I think that's why the pizza is so good."
All of the soups, salad dressings and sauces are made fresh at Manderini's.
Lunch options mimic the dinner choices with lunch-sized portions and a couple of grinders for sandwich cravers. Prices range from $6.49 to $8.99.
The full bar seduces diners, revelers and relaxers with beer, wine and mixed drinks, including nine flavored martinis and hard ice cream drinks with names like Fluffy Chocolate Nuts and Raspberry Love.
Brunch is served on Sundays from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. "Benedicts" (plural) is a good lure for me. So are the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dipped in French toast batter and grilled, or strawberry cheesecake pancakes.
My lunch experience was divine. My friend started out with a chocolate raspberry martini, which got three "whoos" out of her for tastiness and liquor strength.
We shared the Stuffed Shells and the Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo, which were equally delicious. The Alfredo sauce was light and more on the buttery side without the heavy, overdone richness of some. The purposely understated sauce allowed the large, juicy, perfectly cooked shrimp to shine. The pasta was al dente, and like any good pasta, each bite created anticipation of the next.
The creamy-ricotta stuffed shells in an amazing marinara sauce - smooth with natural-tomato, tangy sweetness - were engulfed in melted mozzarella.
Soft, warm, delicious garlic butter-basted bread accompanied each dish.
For dessert, the server recommended the Cannolis - nutty ricotta cream inside a fresh sweet shell, topped with chocolate sprinkles. And my companion had the Healthy Nuts ice cream drink - Vanilla Ice Cream, Bailey's, Kahlua, Vodka, Chocolate Syrup and Heath Bar. It looked innocent enough, like a beautiful ice-cream shop shake. It appeared to go down very easily, punctuated with a straw slurp.
The attentive, obviously experienced server delivered the piping-hot food quickly, but didn't rush us.
Al fresco dining at Manderini's may be the best in town with seating along the front of the building, down the side and on the second floor balcony.
Mr. Berube is quite simply one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. He's good natured and affable. He doesn't take himself too seriously. Once again, there's competition. Once again, he seeks to get along.
"It's not an 'us-versus-them' mentality," he said of working beside other downtown restaurants and bars. "Bill and Frank at Brickhouse have turned into really good friends. In Chicago we did what I do here. We got along."
Manderini's Italian Restaurant is located on the first floor of the Artisan Inn at 215 S. Woodland Blvd. in Downtown DeLand. Call 386-785-1250 or visit their website: www.delandartisaninn.com.