Yes there are some very fine dining to be had in North Raleigh. The choices are numerous. Here we just look at three restaurants where those who love Eggplant can get their palate satiated.
Casa Lingua Ristorante is small storefront restaurant in a strip mall known as Mini City. You enter through the door into a dark hallway.
You notice immediately there are autographed pictures on the wall of the greats with the owners lining the wall. One picture after another.
At the end of the hall you come the the front counter. Immediately you notice the family resemblance between the three generations who run the restaurant. Occasionally you hear words that sound a lot like Italy. On display you see a plethora of breads in a glass case.
You are escorted through the tightly packed dining room to a small table with a candle on it. It has all the feelings of an authentic Italian restaurant, which it is. If you arrived at the right time, you will hear fine music as you preview the menu.
The waiter gets you drink selection and brings you a large basket of breads. Garlic knots, Italian bread, Rolls and soft bread that is covered with tomato sauce like a pizza. (I could eat just this)
The salad and entrée selections are as good as any you will find anywhere. But we are after the Eggplant. We order a salad and the Eggplant. The salad is a standard fare item with a selection of dressings. It is good but not exceptional.
Finally the Eggplant Parmigiana arrives, with pasta. It is done just right. The skin is soft and the center is firm but done. There is plenty of cheese and sauce covering the meal. The serving is large enough for the greatest Eggplant lover.
Though they do have great cannoli and other deserts, there is seldom room after this feast. And the best part is the Eggplant entrée is only $12.95. For those who have other tastes to fulfill they have a broad selection of Italian style entrées starting at about $6.25.
The coffee is a fine ending to a great meal at this authentic family run restaurant.
Waiting a week to try another restaurant serving Eggplant we head off for Ragazzis. While Casalinga is on the Eastern half of North Raleigh, Ragazzis is on the Western half.
When you pull off Glenwood Avenue into the parking lot you notice Ragazzis is a stand alone restaurant. It has plenty of parking on both sides of the building. You can enter from either side, the entry’s meet in the center.
As you enter Ragazzis you pass through two sets of doors. Like Casalinga, Ragazzis has an air of authentic Italian about it. There are jars of olives, Italian ingredients and olive oil lining the walls. A couple of the wall have paintings on them. One which looks a lot like the Madonna. (the original not the singer.)
A young lady will seat you. And if you are a child at heart let you take a child’s menu and crayons. (I love to color) You will be seated at either a table or a booth. Either way, you will notice the arrangement is spacious and uncrowded. They even have room for a few decorations.
Unlike the ultra family style at Casa Lingua, this local chain has no particular family characteristics. It is very smoothly run with a clear plan for providing a satisfying service. My favorite day to go here is Sunday lunch as they have selections starting at around $6.50. On Sundays children eat free. My mother, who is in her W’s, loves seeing the small children dressed in their Sunday best.
The tables are roomy, which will help with the large portions they provide. Of course we order Eggplant. And the food starts flowing.
Of course we get our choice of drinks. They carry the normal wide selection of drinks from water to wine.
Next they bring a large basket of fresh baked garlic bread. All you can eat.
Following this the salad comes out in a large family style bowl. It is a basic salad with lettuce, tomato, black olives, onions, carrot, croûtons and Italian peppers. Dressings can either be on the salad or on the side if everyone wants a different dressing. This is also all you can eat.
The Eggplant follows with a large serving (at dinner) over a bed of pasta in marinara sauce. They know how to cook Eggplant. This meal is more than most normal people can finish. It is very good.
In the area of deserts, if you have saved room, they have one of the most delicious looking selections on the desert tray. On the few occasions we have saved room, they have proven every bit as good as they look.
As you waddle out of the restaurant you know you have been feasted by the best. This is also the best price for a full meal in an Italian Restaurant.
Moving from the true family run; to the family owned; to the franchise we have a third selection for Eggplant.
The Olive Garden in North Raleigh is on Capital Blvd. It is only blocks from the Mini City area where Casa Lingua is located. It is a stand alone franchise with similar restaurants like it around the country.
When you enter the Olive Garden, you notice the same faux Italian atmosphere. The booths appear a little to tight and perhaps a bit more commercial. It is very neat and clean. It has Italian styling.
We are brought to our table. The atmosphere is nice but seems to neat. Both the other two restaurants were a bit less organized, which made them seem more like home. The waiters seem more professional, which is a mixed blessing if you come for the atmosphere.
Like the other restaurants, they have a good selection of drinks to choose from.
The menu, has a very good variety of choices. Again we start with a salad. It turns out to be pretty standard fair. The bread is okay but does not come close to the other restaurants.
Finally the Eggplant comes out. It is excellent, every bit as good as the other two restaurants. The meal portion is about the same, perhaps a bit smaller. But the others were a bit large.
They also have a fine selection of deserts, but Ragazzis has a better visual display.
Casa Lingua has the more genuine atmosphere. It helps when the family is the business. The price is a little higher because the way the meal is priced. It can be less for those who don’t like a salad or desert. It is the most intimate of the restaurants. You are just as likely to be served by grandpa as by dad. Recipes are likely to be original.
Ragazzis is a little less genuine but retains a lot of the Italian atmosphere. It is much less expensive especially on Sunday. It is a better place if you have small children. It is also the place for those who like their own space. The waiters and waitresses are the youngest of the servers we saw. The food is good and plentiful. This is excellent if you have a large appetite.
Olive Garden, in spite of being a chain, is an excellent restaurant. The cost is in the middle between the other two restaurants because items are individually priced. The atmosphere is very typical of a restaurant located by a highway. Service can seem very professional, almost to the point that it takes away from the atmosphere.
These are my favorite restaurants for Eggplant. When it is just two of us, it is definitely candle light at Casa Lingua. If it is the Family, then it is all the bread and salad at Ragazzis; and if someone wants soup, it has to be Olive Garden.