By Jeff Glick
Crossing the threshold to enter Paesano (3411 Washtenaw) allows diners to enter another world. This establishment could easily be mistaken as being operated by 3rd generation Italians, however great credit is due to Mike Roddy, an Irishman, who has perfected the Italian mystique and food panoply. Paesano is another kind of place, asserting an old-world ambiance, both relaxed and refined. A trip through the restaurant’s lounge area into the dining room brings a feeling that you are about to step out of time to take a brief rest.
35 years a paesan
Roddy was working in the restaurant business in Cleveland when he met and married an Italian girl whose father operated the Red Bull, an eatery that occupied what is now Yotsuba on Hogback Road.
Encouraged by his father-in-law to learn the restaurant business first hand, Roddy continued with a well-established family dining establishment in Cleveland for four years before returning to Ann Arbor. Paesano first opened in the former Bimbo’s on the Hill, at 3411 Washtenaw in Ann Arbor, in 1984. Now, 35 years later, Paesano is truly a time-tested and trusted friend.
The menu, showcasing great variety, changes regularly. Seasonal ingredients feature prominently in more contemporary lighter dishes that complement the perennial standby recipes from the Old Country. For the summer season, an array of salads (ranging from $6 to $15) showcasing the warm-weather ingredient spectrum spanning green peas to rhubarb, melon, pear and gorgonzola are lighter and refreshing. Sandwiches at lunch ($8-$9) and appetizers including calamari, arancini (lightly fried fritters of parmesan risotto) and bruschetta ($10-$13) provide lighter alternatives along with daily and weekly specials. Both the lunch and dinner menus offer a variety of chicken, beef, veal and seafood options along with a plethora of pastas and accompanying sauces, with prices ranging from $13 to $26. The menus mention accommodation for dietary concerns including gluten free, vegetarian and highlighted locally sourced ingredients.
The poached perch we ordered at lunch came atop of bed of sauteed spinach, bathed in a very light cream sauce which enhanced the delicate flavor of the fish. The rustic sausage and lentil soup, a nice refuge for a damp, cooler day, tasted as if it was created with love.
More than the food
The attention to the details that create Paesano’s get-away atmosphere is bolstered by the ambient music peppered with old-school selections which seem to invite diners to sing along, whisking you away to a different place. The wait staff are knowledgeable, the glasses remain filled and the salads are served cold.
Offers for special meals and dining adventures are pleasant surprises that diners have come to expect here. Roddy will accompany guests and friends on Paesano’s 22nd annual trip to Italy later this summer. Check the website for details and do it soon as these jaunts generally sell to full capacity. Roddy also hosts a monthly wine event, either a dinner with paired tastings or a “walk around” in the private dining room or on the patio with a featured winemaker who shares their knowledge of the craft. During the warmer months, the patio space hosts Saturday night movies (Italian films, with English subtitles), weather permitting. The current “pink wine” special features selections from Italy that, the promotional table tent explains, were around for centuries before California’s Zinfandels.
Emboldened by the trip to another world called Paesano, and sated with an enjoyable meal, we embark on the rest of our evening.
For the perfect afternoon: Enjoy seasonal appetizers and drink specials (including Peroni drafts for $3) on the patio or in the wine bar from 4-6pm, Monday-Friday.
For the perfect date night: On Saturday nights during the summer, Paesano screens Italian films on the patio. Upcoming films include: It Started in Naples (7-6), The Italian Job (7-13), Cinema Paradiso (7-20). Moonstruck (7-27), and The Godfather (8-3).
For the perfect trip: Join Paesano for their 22nd annual trip to Italy, September 9-20. For more information, contact Suzan Alexander at 734-327-1931 or email her at [email protected]
Paesano Restaurant & Wine Bar
3411 Washtenaw Ave. Ann Arbor
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm | Friday, 11am-11pm
Saturday, Noon-11pm | Sunday, Noon-10pm.
734-971-0484 | paesanosannarbor.com