Being an Italian New Yorker, I’m not only extremely loud and outspoken, but I have a tendency to be over-critical of Italian restaurants who claim to be “authentic” and say that their dishes taste like my grandmother’s Sunday dinners.  So when walking into Zurlo’s Bistro Italiano, I was prepared to criticize each dish and see how it stood up against my Grandma Ida’s creations.  Well, sorry Grandma, but I might have to start spending my Sunday afternoon’s at Zurlo’s now.

Located at 132th and Maple Street, Zurlo’s has been opened since February of 2010.  Owner and chef Enzo Zurlo, started his culinary experience in his uncle’s kitchen making pizza as a teenager in Bronx, NY. He describes himself as “Made in Italy but born in America”.  Since then, he has worked in New York at various Italian and Asian fusion restaurants and then at Bianco’s and Stokes here in Omaha.  The atmosphere of Zurlo’s is contemporary and casual and Enzo says he looks to make his dishes “classic but innovative”. The bar isn’t visible to seated diners so it offers a great opportunity to have a boisterous happy hour not interfere with those enjoying a quiet dinner.  My husband and I went fairly early on a Saturday night and the dining room was already half filled. 

Being a lover of all things bruschetta, I couldn’t resist ordering the traditional tomato bruschetta for an appetizer.  I was also intrigued by the semolina encrusted fried calamari steaks.  The bruschetta had that pop of cold tomato juices mixed with the warmth of the crostini bread and the balsamic vinegar delicately drizzled on top added the extra sweetness to the dish that made it a wonderful and refreshing appetizer.  The calamari steaks were breaded perfectly and their light, lemony flavor was a great start to the meal.  Additionally, we were served a basket of fresh, warm bread (something I am a huge fan of at restaurants) and with it came a paprika garlic butter spread served in a small amount of olive oil.  Don’t be afraid of its brownish color – the taste is a wonderful blend of light flavors.

For our main dishes, we ordered the linguini carbonara and the lasagna enzo.  My thought was that if a chef was willing to name a dish after him or herself, it must be worth trying.  The linguini carbonara was served with pancetta and peas in a cream sauce.  You can choose to add meatball, chicken or Italian sausage.  I went with the sausage and am thrilled I did.  The saltiness of the pancetta, with the slight spiciness of the sausage came together perfectly to create a creamy, delicious pasta dish.  I was enjoying it immensely and then I took a bite of my husband’s lasagna.  Now that is what I’m talking about.  I might have to start calling the chef Grandma Enzo now.  With a combination of béchamel and Bolognese sauce, I would assume the dish would be heavy in nature.  However, I was completely mistaken and the dish was light, flavorful and full of melting cheese and noodles.  I can honestly say that it was the best lasagna I have had in Omaha.

I was impressed by the array of options on the menu.  From pastas to pizzas to calzones and even full meat and potato entrees, Zurlo’s has something for everyone.  Whether you are enjoying their happy hour drinks and pizza/appetizers specials, or going in for a quiet dinner, the options are vast.  Enzo’s goal for diners is to “feed everyone’s palate with simple ingredients and lots of love“.  He sounds just like my grandmother.   I’m looking forward to sitting out on their patio in the warmer weather and sharing one of their 70 bottles of wine with my husband and eating that lasagna again.  Who am I kidding, I’ll probably be back next week…

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