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Posted on Sun. Mar. 02, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Casa hits crescendo with spot on Dupont

Casa Grille

*** 1/2

Out of a possible five


It is like an old friend you can always rely on.

And you probably have a favorite dish you go to whenever you visit one of the Casa restaurants, whether it be the classic Casa salad, the Pasta con Verdura or the Chicken Parmigiano.

But what I enjoy about Casa is the ever-changing specials menu, which lets me break away from my go-to meals and try something new. But it can also be a curse because when I find something good, I only have a month before it disappears.

I was struck by the curse during my recent visits to Casa Grille on Dupont Road by a dish that could easily be one of my go-to’s if it wasn’t already off the menu – the Saccottino.

Sausage-stuffed pasta purses about the size of a golf ball were tossed in a spicy red sauce and topped with just a little chopped parsley. The sausage inside these al dente purses was finely ground and had the same consistency as the filling in a meat ravioli, so I am guessing it also had Parmesan cheese in it. The sauce really packed a punch, the meat was flavorful and it was wonderful. The only minor flaw was that the crimped purses did not completely drain and some of the water they retained puddled on the plate. But still, it was a fabulous dish I will miss.

This Casa Grille is probably my favorite location in the chain, edging the Grille on Stellhorn Road because of its vast main room with its high ceiling that helps absorb a little more noise. But it is still loud. The wood oven in the back of the room faces the dining room and the glow coming off of it, the pizzas going in and out and the array of meats spinning on the rotisserie are impossible not to gawk at.

One of those spinning meats was so good it will be added to my list of favorites and it is a menu fixture so I don’t have to worry.

The perfectly cooked Rotisserie Grilled Pork Chops were tender and juicy and had some char around the edges that absorbed the flavor from the fire. They were rubbed with herbs, drizzled with a prosciutto cream sauce and accompanied by wild mushroom risotto. The creamy sauce was a little salty from the prosciutto, and the risotto, which had the perfect creamy consistency, was packed with earthy mushrooms that balanced out the sauce.

I had to try a pizza from that wood oven and chose the Amante, which is sort of a take on Chicago deep-dish. The crust, which the oven did justice to, was layered with cheese, ground sausage, ham, pepperoni and bacon, then topped with a sweet tomato sauce and grated Parmesan. It was OK, but not deep-dish so the trademark Chicago upside-down layering was sort of lost on the thinner pie.

A pizza-like appetizer was a nice find. The Tuscano Flatbread was topped with grilled chicken, pears, mozzarella, provolone and gorgonzola cheese, a red pepper puree and field greens, which were dressed with a pear vinaigrette. The pears were cooked until soft and, along with the vinaigrette, made it a rather sweet dish, but the flavors worked and I liked it. The only negative was that the greens tended to fall off easily making it hard to handle.

Casa’s appetizer offerings are plentiful and diverse, which is nice when many Italian places just offer the usual breadsticks, garlic bread and bruscetta. But I found one of those mundane options to be much more than mundane at Casa Grille.

The Mozzarella Fritto (cheese sticks) was so lightly coated with Italian breadcrumbs that the gooey, melted cheese truly was the star, picking up the herbs that dotted the crisp breading. With a side of the restaurant’s tasty marinara, I had no qualms.

One qualm I have always had with Casa is the ridiculous amount of marinara that comes with the spaghetti, whether as a main or a side, which most entrées include. And at Casa Grille, this was the case again with the noodles in my side drowning. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

The white pasta side, although just as heavily sauced, was wonderful, however, and I will be ordering it from here on out. The sauce was light and creamy, almost like béchamel, and it was packed with mushrooms and dotted with Italian herbs.

The sauce on my Crab Lasagne Rolls packed a seafood punch and was dotted with five plump, sweet shrimp. This sauce was described as “a zesty marinara sauce,” but it was orange and somewhat creamy. It had a strong essence from the crab and shrimp and was, indeed, quite spicy, which was just right with the sweet seafood. The two sizable rolls were al dente and held a lot of blue crab claw stuffing.

Although it was easy to get stuffed at Casa Grille, the dessert offerings – just as vast as the appetizers – were too good to pass up.

The tiramisu was spot-on, and the peanut butter pie was indulgent. The chocolate cookie-crusted pie had chunks of Reese’s cups, chocolate chunks and peanuts in its chocolate-peanut butter filling, and it was all covered in another layer of fudge and a dollop of whipped cream.

It went great with my Chocolate Milano Cappuccino, which had white chocolate syrup in the coffee and a drizzle of the dark Milano chocolate syrup on top.

The only major service flaw at Casa Grille occurred at the end of the meal during another visit when my wife was craving an adult dessert beverage.

I asked the server whether such concoctions could be produced from the bar, which is nicely segmented away from the family dining area on the right side of the building. The server said they had had “pretty much whatever we wanted,” but there was no bar menu. So I asked whether there was something with Bailey’s or a caramel liquor they could make.

“Well, I have to know exactly what you want or you will just have to walk over there and ask the bartender yourself,” the server said in a not-so-pleasant tone.

At that point, the only thing I wanted was my bill so I could find a bar that would be happier to help us.

Restaurant: Casa Grille

Address: 411 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 490-4745

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Mozzarella Fritto ($6.29), Tuscan Flatbread ($7.79), Pizza Amante ($8.29), Crab Lasagne Rolls ($13.99), pork chops ($14.99), Chocolate Milano Cappuccino ($3.99), tiramisu ($5.79), peanut butter pie ($5.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

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