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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fine Italian Dining at Mimma's Café

Elegance sets the tone at Brady Street mainstay

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When Mimma Megna opened her café on Brady Street in 1989, the area was vastly different from today's scene of cute boutiques, wine bars and martini lounges. Far from being a coincidence, Mimma's Café helped to usher in the neighborhood's revitalization.

The café has also changed over the years. Mimma's, which started in a small storefront, has tripled in size. The exterior echoes the modest working-class ethic of the local architecture. Once inside, however, you are transported to an elegant setting.

The front room serves as the bar area. The surface of the bar features an undulating curve of black marble, and a black grand piano sits near the window. This is the place for a plate of calamari and negronis.

The two dining rooms have faux marble details and plenty of window seats for observing the Brady Street scene from a refined perch. Table linens provide a nice touch.

The menu and wine list are first to arrive. The menu consists of appetizers, salads and pasta entrees. Meat dishes are also available as daily specials. The wine list is a serious one, sensibly arranged by the regions of Italy. Many bottles are in the $20-$30 range, though one vintage tops the charts at $1,000. There are a few domestic bottles as well as a selection of French champagnes.

Next is a basket of sesame-seed-studded Italian bread with a side of herbed olive oil. Mimma's was among the first to use olive oil in this way.

A good, simple starter is melanzane fritte ($10.95), fried eggplant strips with a side of marinara and wedges of fresh lemon. The gamberi alla Toscana ($14.95) are jumbo shrimp dusted in flour with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, onions, basil and cannellini beans, and topped with a sprig of flat-leaf parsley. Add insalata tricolore ($4.50), a simple salad of leaf lettuce with a balsamic vinaigrette, and you have the makings for a light and enjoyable meal.

The pastas are grouped into categories for seafood, vegetarian and meat options. The penne con asparagi ($13.95) is pleasing in its simplicity. Asparagus is cut in inch-long pieces and minced anchovies add the only other flavor in this adept preparation. The pasta nera con gamberi e calamari ($17.95) is more complex. This dish, using black pappardelle pasta with shrimp and rings of calamari in a lusty marinara sauce, portrays Mimma's at its best. Gnocchi alla Ferrarese ($14.95) offers plentiful Italian potato dumplings with a choice of meat, tomato or Gorgonzola cheese sauce.

After the main course, the dessert menu arrives with the usual cast of Italian characters. But perhaps now would be the time to revisit the bar and finish the evening with a bit of espresso. After all, the night life of Brady Street awaits.

Mimma's Café

1307 E. Brady St.

(414) 271-7337

$$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Handicap Accessible

mimmas.com