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Midland's Own Tuscan "Son"

"What are you growing here?" That was the first line in writer Frances Mayes' celebrated book, Under The Tuscan Sun. What have local Midland residents Joe (Giuseppe) and Melinda D'Alessandro been growing here in Midland? They have nurtured and grown a business, a popular pizzeria for the last 20 years that has matured into a gourmet Italian restaurant at it's new location on Wackerly Rd. complete with the largest Italian wine list North of Detroit.

Joe grew up in San Giorgio, Italy, one of five siblings who came from humble, yet hopeful beginnings. Arriving to America by boat when he was 12, he and his family worked hard to make a new life in in Detroit, Michigan. He gained experience in the restaurant business at an early age. Though living here for 30 years, he's never forgotten where he came from, immortalizing the beautiful Italian culture and cuisine in a hidden treasure of a restaurant; Villa D'Alessandro and Tuscany Banquet Hall. For 20 years they were located in Eastlawn Shopping Center as D'Alessandro's Italian Cuisine and were (and still are) popular for their pizza. The dining experience has matured and the location changed to 801 E. Wackerly Rd. The authentic Italian dishes are prepared on-site with the freshest, finest ingredients. Freshly plucked basil and oregano are grown in their own kitchen herb garden. Also grown in the summer are fresh eggplants, beans and tomatoes.

Guests in the summertime can enjoy dining al fresco on the beautiful stone patio and pergola built by Joe. He is a cement mason by trade, but his heart is in the restaurant business and as he said "you have to have passion for what you do". He wanted to create a more intimate dining experience, much like those found in Italy. He has grape vines, tomatoes, herbs, sparkling white lights and next summer visitors can enjoy the soothing sounds of a waterwall when dining outside.

Indoors, in the cold, gray weather of wintertime Michigan, diners can imagine they are somewhere in sunny Italy, enjoying cuisine that is full of warmth and flavor. A sample menu might include grilled portabella mushrooms or the pepperoni arrostiti (roasted red peppers with fresh mozzerella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil) , calamari and crab cakes. After these appetizers, there are familiar favorites, pizza, calzone, lasagna, and then some specialities such as:

Frutti Di Mare, Cotolette Saltimbocca and Tagliatelle alla Romano. Homemade tiramisu, Cannoli or spumoni are desserts you hope to save room for as well as an after dinner cappucino or espresso.

Prices are in the $12.95-$15.95 range for a dinner, about what one would expect to pay at most area chain restaurants, but with a big difference in that almost everything is homemade at Villa D'Alessandro. Along with the regular menu, there is a different featured entree each week. Call Melinda at Villa D'Alessandro to be included in their mailing list if you'd like to stay informed of their specials and upcoming events. You may not have been to the restaurant yet, but you may have tried the food already. They are often available at the Cherry Festival in Traverse City, The Midland Center for the Arts Art Fair and The Tall Ships Celebration. They offer catering services and they can fax you the menus if you call. They also offer takeout and delivery service for those who can't get away from the office.

Their most recent event was in conjunction with Eastman Party Store called Wines of Tuscany and is held two times a year, next one will be held in April. Several different wines, all chosen for their high quality of flavor and perfect accompaniment to the dishes served. Gar Winslow, proprietor of Eastman Party Store and Van Tuma, wine expert, shared their expertise on the wines as each was poured.

 

Italian music was provided by the talented tenor, Pasquale DiSarno and his accordion player, Gil. It created a charming atmosphere for the dinner and wine tasting. Over and over again, the stuffed sweet green fig dish, Ripieni Finocchio was mentioned by diners as a favorite as was the oven roasted lamb, Agnello Arrosto di Ripieni. Villa D'Alessandro hosts an annual Valentine's Day dinner that is quite popular as well. So, if the moon has hit your eye, you might want to remember to make reservations early.

Villa D'Alessandro seats about 80, while the Tuscany Banquet Hall next door can hold up to 250 for weddings and other special events. Restaurant hours are lunch; m-f 11-2 and dinner 4-9 (mon-thur) friday 4-10, open for saturday dinner, 4-10. Call 989-631-3821 for more information