Friday, May 25, 2007

The Italian Re-Birth of a Dairy Queen

6540 Lake Road West
Geneva-On-The-Lake, OH
(440) 964-5766

AS FAMILY LEGEND goes, my grandfather first came up (and kept coming) to Geneva-On-The-Lake when the little Lake Erie town was in its resort-town heyday. That was during the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s he bought the now-century-old lakeside house he still owns and the family, to this day, still frequents. He bought the house the same year my mother, the middle of seven children, was born, and with this small army waiting in the wings he decided to make another purchase: a Dairy Queen franchise.

The kids all had college tuition to earn and, besides, they needed something to keep them busy in the summer. So, this was the trade off--make ice cream now, go to college later. The stories from those Dairy Queen days are nearly endless in my family. Business was brisk through the 60s, died off with the town's waning, aging popularity during the 70s, and by the 80s the former hot spot was mostly abandoned save for a few buckets of marshmallow topping.

The 'old Dairy Queen' was re-imagined as an Italian restaurant in the mid-90s by my uncle, but the food never won over any of the locals. It was sold to another Italian man in 2001, Alessandro , a native Italian, who promised to try the same Italian trick. The town said it would never stick. They weren't expecting the food to be so damn good.

How good is the food at Alessandro's? Really, really good.

For the first time in 40 years the parking lot off Lake Road is packed just as it used to be, with lines of waiting customers spilling out the doors. The town may be run down a bit more than it used to be, like the old Dairy Queen's exterior, but the new life inside owes a debt to the fantastic food coming out of the kitchen (that folks in this town will line up to pay $12-plus for a plate of pasta should tell you just how good it is).

Alessandro's, in truth, is part of an slow but sudden revival in this once-thriving resort haven, by many accounts Ohio's very first. While fun, games, and dancing have all been parts of its heritage (my grandfather boasts of getting Cab Calloway's autograph after a 1930s dance), fine food has never been a fine point in any of the stories I've been told. Doughnut shops, ice cream parlors, a few pizza establishments--these are the vendors of Geneva-On-The-Lake's past. Alessandro's is one for its future.

My linguine with zucchini and seafood was infinitely better than a similar dish I ate at New York landmark Patsy's just earlier this week; that pasta, zucchini, shrimp, and crab can all be cooked in one dish and not one wind up overcooked is remarkable to me. My mother's mushroom ravioli were light and rich, with tiny cherry tomatoes brightening up the dish, and my grandfather's meat lasanga, by all reports, wonderful. The antipasti platter of mushroom and tomato bruschetta (garlicky without overpowering) with tomato, mozzarella and basil on fresh focaccia was simple yet exciting.

It's a far cry from the days of toppings fights and "Rose and Tony's pepperonis" pizza, but it's new life in a place with seriously great heritage, Dilly Bars and all.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Most certainly.

1 comment:

Lezleets said...

Visited Alessandro's for the first time today. You can bet I'll be back. Fantastic food! Way better than Little Italy in Cleveland.