Family owned Carini's is a neighborhood mainstay
Oakland Avenue boasts a small smattering of family owned restaurants, one of which is Carini's La Conca D'Oro, 3468 N. Oakland Ave. Owned for the past 11 years by Peter and Jan Carini, the restaurant is inconspicuously nestled near neighborhood icon Otto's liquor, and is popular for its open air dining in Milwaukee's warmer months.
Carini's is perhaps known best for a stellar lunch buffet. It's a pasta-lover's dream, combining multiple vegetarian and other good and basic lunch options that will make Italian food lovers weak at the knees. The price is right as well, coming in under $9.
For dinners, Carini's features a significant selection of seafood and traditional Italian dishes, including the famed house specialty spiedinis in assortments of beef, chicken, veal, swordfish and eggplant. Spiedini, a traditional Italian dish with choice of meat (most often beef) stuffed with cheese (most often mozzarella and parmesan), dredged in egg and flour, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried and baked to lovely golden brown, is a wonderfully guilty Italian pleasure served with a good solid red sauce.
At Carini's, the spiedinis range in price from $18.95 to the mid twenties, and are well worth both the calories and the money. Particularly the Eggplant spiedini ($18.95), with pine nuts and the kick of parmesan cheese beneath a layer of red sauce that is good with the accompanying slices of fried eggplant.
Diners select from frutti di mare (seafood), vitello (veal), pasta, manzo (beef), pollo (chicken) and insalata (salad). We sampled Chef Peter's special salad ($12.50), which we found slightly disappointing since the Genoa salami and capicolla were mere slices of cut up lunch meat, so the dish lacked in presentation. Flavors, however, were average, and we were pleased with the homemade Italian dressing that accompanied the dish. Vitello Parmigiana ($23.95) was a good veal Parmigiana, with the veal thin and lightly browned, and not at all greasy.
Carini's red sauce remains basic but good, and works well with these types of simple Italian dishes. The vitello came with choice of soup or salad, which in my case was a cream of mushroom which was good, if a little bland. A tomato basil soup was slightly better with a nearly too rich tomato base that complemented the other flavors of our dinner. Dinners also comes with choice of potato or pasta, which in one case was a lovely, classic baked potato properly cooked and smothered with butter, that was great with the veal.
Our only real disappointment at Carini's was a gamberi (shrimp) special with the shrimp stuffed in garlic and breadcrumbs over a healthy serving of angel hair pasta. The garlic carried the scent of jarred minced garlic, which sometimes misrepresents itself as fishiness in dishes. And as a result, the shrimp, which were just a tad overdone, seemed fishy, despite being noticeably fresh. It seemed an unfortunate mistake. The pasta beneath was the same lovely angel hair that should make the Carini's proud.
Carini's, with a respectable wine list and with 14 antipasti (appetizer) selections, also lends itself well to a glass of wine and some shared appetizers. As a neighborhood mainstay, it is nice to have a family owned, simple Italian restaurant with good, reasonably priced options for the locals. And with the growing number of vegetarians in our metropolis, the vegetarian lunch buffet will likely remain a favorite for years to come.
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