By Dr. Ink
The aromas of red sauce, lasagna and hot pizzas are like a kiss on the cheek when you step inside DiMille’s Italian Restaurant in Normal Heights, which ranks among the oldest mom-and-pop establishments on Adams Avenue.
Founded by the namesake family in 1978, the Chianti has been no less a staple here than spaghetti. And at some point in the past decade, craft beer took over the taps following a series of remodels that resulted in the addition of a spacious patio and glass-enclosed bar lounge.
Weekday happy hour is available anywhere in the restaurant. The two main dining rooms are old-school cozy with their high-back booths that offer a little privacy for intimate conversation or when fumbling over the baseball-size meatballs from the regular menu. They’ve been my go-to choice in past dinner visits.
This time I came knocking for the drink and appetizer bargains, which provide only minor savings. Draft crafts, house wine and well drinks are $1 off, and you save $2 on appetizers priced usually between $8.75 and $12.75.
I scored well with an above-average pour of Central Coast Chianti from San Antonio Vineyard ($5.50 with the discount). Unlike the imports from Italy, this was less astringent and pleasantly grapey, much like medium-bodied zinfandel. Better yet, it was served slightly cool, an attribute I don’t usually encounter in family-run Italian restaurants.
Chianti, dry or fruity, is an excellent food wine that pairs especially well to meat, cheese and red sauce, or to the restaurant’s Italian nachos for that matter.
I had them a few years ago and liked them, although this time not as much. Served generously in a metal pan, the novel concoction features house-made potato chips smothered in bruschetta, pepperoncinis, crumbled meatballs and mozzarella. On top is a mantle of shaved, mouthwatering Romano cheese. They cost $9 during happy hour.
However, the meatball component that once again attracted me to them was drier than before and lacked the herby, garlicky essence I fondly remember. Had the balls been fished from a pot of tomato sauce, the meat would’ve tasted much better. Unfortunately, the spicy alfredo served alongside for dipping tasted like creamy Frank’s Hot Sauce.
But the Chianti proved reliable in restoring the classic Italian savor of the meat as I used it to wash down most of the plate and every spec of cheese. Next time I’ll spring for the fried artichokes.
Other appetizers include calamari, spicy wings, bruschetta, and cheesy garlic bread. The libations extend to 10 rotating craft beers on tap and basic liquor drinks. Also, if you get there before the dinner rush verges into the second half of happy hour, parking is a breeze (and free) in the ample lot located on the west side of the restaurant.