There are a lot of Italian restaurants in the Chicago area — across the country, really — and it's easy to assume a sort of chain-restaurant sameness at all of them. Like most people, we enjoy Italian cuisine, but we rarely have an experience that really differentiates a spot from all the others.
Melina's Trattoria on York Road in Elmhurst does stand out, though. Also a Nancy's Pizzeria location, Melina's really stands out when you explore its other dinner entrees. It doesn't just offer a standard spaghetti; there's the Spaghetti Tetrazzini (with chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce) and the Spaghetti Antonio (with chicken breast and sun-dried tomatoes).
For meatier entrees, there are sections with veal dishes (such as Veal Saltimboca, with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella), chicken (the Pollo alla Vesuvio sounded tempting), fish, steak and pork.
They've also got a "create your own pasta" section on the menu with a choice of 10 kinds of pasta and 13 types of sauces. Combine it with a side of meatballs or sausage, and you can have just about any kind of pasta dish you can think of.
The stuffed artichoke appetizer on the menu looked appetizing to me, but my companion, who almost never passes a chance to order bruschetta, insisted we go that route. My goodness, that was a good call. The bread was nicely toasted so it wouldn't get soggy from the olive oil, the tomato chunks were perfectly ripe, and the cheese was perfectly proportioned. We agreed it was the best bruschetta we'd ever had.
I chose the Rigatoni Boscaiola for my meal. It was a generous portion, with a terrific blush cream sauce, mushrooms and sausage. What a great combination of flavors. I found that I wanted to get a rigatoni noodle, a mushroom and a chunk of sausage in every forkful to get the full blend of flavors. The sausage was just spicy enough to be noticeable without overwhelming the other ingredients.
My companion was hankering for some seafood and was tempted by the red snapper on the specials list, but ultimately chose to go with the Fettucine Salmonata. She opted for whole wheat pasta — they also offer gluten-free — and said it was nice and tender, in contrast to other whole wheat pastas she has tried before.
Melina's marks the house specialties with an asterisk on the menu, and I'll definitely be going back to try some of the others. Particularly appealing options include the Spinach Fettucine al Prosciutto, the Lobster Ravioli (in a vodka cream sauce) and the Linguine Insalata (sautéed with garlic, oil and fresh basil).
"I want to go back, for sure!" my companion agreed.
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive experiences will result in published reviews.
WHERE: Melina's Trattoria, 940 N. York Road, Elmhurst
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
INFO: melinaselmhurst.com, 630-834-4374