Chow, bella!

Checked out Lino’s Coffee this morning after a sneak peek tour of the new Dallara Automobili factory, and found this nifty little café worth the drive to Speedway.

Lino’s hails from Parma, Italy, part of a franchised family that includes around 60 international locations; Indy is the company’s first venture into the U.S. Having actually been to Parma and visited several cafes in Italy for basis of comparison, let me assure you. Lino’s is the real deal. This is about as close as you can come to an honest-to-God Italian café without buying airfare.

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The café sits at the northwest corner of the bright and shiny new Dallara building on Main Street in Speedway, and is easily a stand-alone destination on its on merits. If there’s anything Italians love more than fast cars, it’s good food and coffee. Everywhere you look, this place screams “VIVA ITALIA!” from the espresso machines (imported from Italy, of course. Duh.) and the coffee menu placards in Italian to the sparsely filled panini sandwiches and the gelato. Mamma mia, I was excited about my lunch.

Traditional Italian food thinking dictates keeping it simple. Use high-quality, mostly unadorned ingredients and let the true flavors shine through. No burying stuff under pools of ketchup. Forget super-sizing and all the extraneous add-ons. In Italy, you don’t need them. When you’ve got building blocks this good to work with, why would you want to muck things up?

Customers here have their pick of paninis, pastas and salads — all kind of unbelievably priced under $10 and many items less than $6. Or, you can assemble a light continental breakfast from a small but carefully vetted selection of flaky fresh pastries from a mouthwatering display case.

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The Parma panini

My two lunch companions both ordered the Parma… a long, skinny panini with paper-thin shavings of Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, stunning tomato slices (take that, Subway!) and a scattering of lettuce.

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the Milano panini

My Milano sandwich held slices of the same salty ham with Fontina cheese and a little shaved artichoke on a square of chewy, toothsome rustic Ciabatta bread. The only condiments in sight are olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the counter. That’s all you need. Simple, and simply delicious.

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Then there’s the coffee… ah. The coffee. I’ll need to make a return trip soon to test-drive a cappuccino or a regular Americano, along with one of those sexy baked goods perhaps. This being a hot day and all, we went for a round of iced coffees, and quickly discovered that this is not your average iced coffee.

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Lino’s iced coffee

I have never had, tasted or seen an iced coffee like this before. Forget all about your fancy Frappuccinos and the usual milky mixture poured over melting ice that only serves to water it down. Now, imagine a rocks glass filled with the most insanely smooth-blended coffee concoction you’ve ever slurped into your mouth. It wasn’t a drinkable coffee at all, really, but more like a rich, sweet, creamy coffee-flavored Wendy’s Frosty. Or maybe a half-frozen chocolate/coffee pudding? But better. Waaaay better. It’s so thick, you have no choice but to eat it with the accompanying demitasse spoon.

Ok, maybe the iced coffee isn’t exactly traditional Italian. Then again, I’ve never ordered an iced coffee in Italy. So who knows, maybe it is. Who cares. It rocked. I want another one right now. Who’s with me?

For more information:
www.linoscoffee.com

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Arrividerci, bella Italia

The last few days in Italy were action-packed! Let’s see, where did we last leave off?

On Sunday morning, the toddler and I took another spin around the supermarket of the gods to stock up for our last few days of supplies. After, we lunched at a place in the shopping center called “Risto.” I’ve walked by Risto a few times and was intrigued. As it turns out, Risto is like a very upscale cafeteria, Italian-style. Yummy! It has the first salad bar I’ve seen maybe ever in Europe, along with a whole handful of hot-food stations. Panini, pasta, soups, cheeses; you name it, they had it. And it was BUSY.

I loaded up a big bowl of salad, and not just any salad. This bar offered some definitely Italian ingredients you don’t find just anywhere – radicchio, endive, sliced fennel, cannellini beans… good stuff! The toddler and I grabbed a table and a rare high chair to enjoy. It was a great little find. And as we were eating, an old Italian man passed our table and, best I could understand, told me that my son is a very lucky little boy. NICE! I think I’m liking Italy more all the time.

Dinner at Il Pavone again Sunday night… hubby wrapped up at his show at a decent hour and we had a celebratory supper with his colleague to enjoy. Although I had pledged to try not to order the same thing twice, the fusilli della casa sang its siren call to me and I was happy to answer. A side plate of steamed spinach with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parmesan made the perfect accompaniment. Hubby got pizza and pasta, and his colleague put us all to shame by ordering vegetable soup; an outstandingly huge bowl of seafood pasta loaded with mussels, clams and langostine; AND a pizza. Which he couldn’t finish.

When I was in Cologne, my Hoosier laundry comrade Jerry had suggested I try some limoncello in Italy. Remembering that I hadn’t yet done so, I asked Maria if she had some. Happily, the answer was yes. Out of the freezer came a tall bottle of the lemon liqueur and three chilled shot glasses shaped like little boots. Not sure what the significance of the boot was, but it sure made for an adorable presentation. She filled them up, we toasted to Jerry and sipped. The shot tasted like a lemon drop martini, a very sweet and puckery frosty lemonade with a serious kick. YUMMY. I can’t believe I waited until this late in the week to discover this little gem.

Hello, limoncello!

Monday was our one and only road trip, and although I was disappointed in the lack of beautiful Italian countryside I was hoping for, the stops more than made up for it. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and then set out on our big adventure. Hubby did all the driving, thank God, because I never could have navigated the Milan traffic and gotten us out in one piece.

We stopped in Parma, home of Parma ham and a beautiful little town in its own right, and ditched the car to take a quick look around. We strolled past a picturesque cathedral and piazza, then onto what seemed to be the main shopping street. It was getting toward lunchtime, so we found a cute little cafe and ducked inside. A counter full of delicious-looking sandwiches served us well. I ate a fabulous wedge of rosemary-and-tomato-studded focaccia topped with a few thin slices of proscuitto crudo. Simple and wonderful.

The cafe housed a series of spinning hot chocolate machines just inside the front door that looked like something out of Willy Wonka. Clearly, I couldn’t say no. After my sandwich, I ordered a cup. It was insanely rich, like drinking warm melted chocolate pudding. Oh my goodness. I couldn’t even finish it. Seriously, you could serve this stuff as fondue.

magical hot chocolate machines in Parma

After lunch, we hit the rest of the drive through some side roads and vineyards (I believe this is Chianti territory), past the Ferrari factory in Maranello, and then on to Ducati near Bologna. For the non-sports oriented, Ducati makes the crème de la crème of two-wheelers. Hubby calls it the Ferrari of motorcycles. As the whole reason for our being here was a motorcycle exposition, it seemed the perfect way to cap off our trip to Italy.

We signed in at the gate and were met by our lovely tour guide, Violetta. She proceeded to give us a very informative and interesting walk through the top-secret factory (every single piece of these bikes is assembled by hand – no wonder the price tag!). The adjacent museum reminded me a little of the one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, housing motorcycles through the years along with info on when and where they raced, along with a whole wall of trophies. I’m not really a motorcycle fan, but I still found the whole thing pretty cool. The toddler, on the other hand, though he’d died and gone to heaven! He ran riot through the whole place from one exhibit to another, purring motorcycles noises the entire time. Hubby and his colleague were as happy as two little boys on Christmas morning.

The journey back to Milan was fast, and uneventful, thank God, in spite of hubby’s pedal-to-the-metal driving style and a close call on the autostrade. I tried not to pay too much attention from the backseat. I think he said he averaged something like 98 mph the whole way. Not bad for a rental car.

Our last Milano supper took place, where else, at Il Pavone. Hubby ordered his favorite pizza salami, and I had a fresh mixed salad and a sizzling platter of sliced steak topped with mushrooms. Mm, mm good.

PDAs are de rigeur here in Italy. This is the land of amore, I suppose, but these people don’t just do a quick peck on the cheek, they nearly devour each other. I’ve seen quite a few couples out and about this week (of all ages mind you, not just the teenage variety) engaged in serious clinches. At the tram stop downtown, one such duo had their tongues so far down each other’s throats, I wanted to slip them a handful of euros and tell them to get a room.

With that said, I was ready to give Milan a big, sloppy, wet kiss and say ciao, baby. After a nine-hour flight to New York, a three-hour layover, a 90-minute flight to Indy and a 45-minute taxi ride, we finally arrived home. Not that I haven’t solidly enjoyed our trip and the food that it entailed, but I’m in the mood to cook up some of the most un-Italian dishes I can think of for the next few days. Chicken stir-fry, here I come!