If your idea of comfort food includes Southern Italian classics like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and chicken cacciatore, it’s time to try The Mission Bistro.
Inside the back door of the new Cassano’s location, 2002 E. Mission Ave., the bistro combines the talents of chef Dave Finney and some of the family recipes of Cassano’s owner Carl Naccarato. The result is a hearty menu that tastes as though the food might have been prepared by your Italian grandmother.
And Finney will take that as a compliment, even while he’s confessing his Irish, French Canadian and Cherokee heritage.
He worked more than 35 years in catering and banquet kitchens for hotels including the Red Lion, Doubletree and the Coeur d’Alene Resort before opening the small restaurant April 1 in his longtime friend’s store.
Naccarato relocated Cassano’s from East Sprague Avenue to the old Piccolo’s grocery store. The men are also collaborating on a catering business based at the restaurant, called David deCarlo Catering.
The house-made marinara is chock-full of herbs and garlic. Finney adds wild mushrooms to give the vegetarian sauce an earthy, meaty flavor. It was delicious topped with Romano cheese in the spaghetti and meatballs ($8.95 lunch/$9.95 dinner).
The marinara also serves as the foundation for the popular seven-layer lasagna ($9.95 lunch/$11.95 dinner), one of Naccarato’s “famous” recipes, served in a 1-pound portion with alternating layers of pasta, provolone, pesto basil and marinara.
At a dinner visit, one of the favorites at our table was the Veal Marsala ($17.95). The tender veal had a crispy golden crust from pan frying. Fresh sage permeated the sauce of mushrooms, pine nuts, onion and garlic. We savored the accompanying wild mushroom ravioli.
Our margherita pizza had a thick, tender crust. It was topped with garlic-infused olive oil and a generous layer of mozzarella and Romano cheeses ($15.50). Finney rolls the prepared dough thick or thin for classic cheese or pepperoni pies and a variety of Mediterranean-inspired offerings.
The Greek Vegetarian pizza ($15.50) includes feta, mozzarella, Greek olives, red onion, fresh mushrooms and oregano. The Mission Bistro is topped with traditional pizza sauce, sausage, coppacola ham, mushrooms, black olives, mozzarella and Parmesan ($16.50).
There’s also a Chicken Asiago Pizza with Alfredo sauce, chicken, fresh mushrooms, garlic, Asiago and yellow bell pepper ($17.50).
We had a taste of the traditional chicken Alfredo fettuccine at lunch. The generous serving ($10.95) was topped with a silky Alfredo sauce studded with mushrooms, tender chicken and a sprinkle of pungent Asiago cheese.
My dining companion enjoyed a daily special featuring clams, mussels and shrimp simmered in the lighter house red sauce and served with rigatoni noodles ($10.95).
Somehow, we overlooked another lunchtime favorite, the stromboli ($8.95). Finney stuffs the pizza dough with ground beef, sausage, sauce, smoked provolone and the spicy capicolla ham. It is baked and served like a calzone.
Finney grinds his own Italian sausage for another lunch and dinner favorite, Italian Sausage and Rigatoni ($9.95 lunch/$12.95 dinner).
Italian sandwiches are also on the bistro menu ($8.95). Choose from smoked turkey, smoked ham, Genoa Salami and capicolla ham, or sopresatta salami and provolone cheese. The offering is meant to complement rather than compete with the deli sandwiches served at the counter of Cassano’s store.
Finney says word-of-mouth recommendations have drawn many from the local Italian community thanks to Naccarato’s recipes and advice: “He’s been a big part of the menu.”
Don’t miss the Naccarato family recipe for tiramisu. Finney says he modified it somewhat to make it taller and fluffier. The ladyfingers are soaked in dark, rich coffee and liqueurs and layered with mascarpone cheese. Cinnamon, chocolate syrup and a dusting of cocoa finish the dessert.
If you’re looking for something that is not quite as sweet, try the cannoli. Finney stuffs the shells from a San Francisco bakery with a ricotta cheese filling with mini chocolate chips. It’s drizzled with chocolate syrup and served with a lightly sweet whipped cream. Both it and the tiramisu are big enough to share.
While you dine, notice the black-and-white photographs along the walls. Finney says the pictures of Italy were taken in the early 1900s with a large box camera by a friend’s great-grandfather, and he was able to have the slides restored. The stark photos offer a fascinating glimpse of everyday life in Italy at the time.
Cassano’s and The Mission Bistro will host a grand opening celebration Oct. 10 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Oct. 11 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. There will be music along with store and restaurant specials.