IL CONTADINO RISTORANTE
Michel Menna is a people pleaser – in a foodie kind of way.
He dotes on his customers with homemade Italian fare at his intimate restaurant in Pineapple Grove.
The restaurant, Il Contadino is a place where people come to celebrate holidays, birthdays or just want to luxuriate in the pampering and power of a homemade Italian meal.
Menna likes when his patrons call ahead to tell him what foods they prefer. That way he has time to create the perfect version of their favorite dishes with élan.
Ken Chiarella came to Il Contadino with his mother Marilyn (who was celebrating a milestone birthday) and three of his friends. All are snowbirds and find themselves smitten with the culinary prowess of Menna.
“Michel puts out food that is second to none. Everything is personalized and fresh, and the flavors are distinct and amazing. Ev-ery time we come here, he asks us what we want, and then he prepares it beautifully.”
When Ken’s mom Marilyn asked for lamb chops for her birthday dinner, Menna didn’t have them. But within an hour they mysteriously appeared in front of her with all the trimmings. She beamed with delight as her son looked on with amazement and accolades fit for a prince.
“I have been to the best restaurants in New York and Italy and Michel is as good as all of them. I always tell the truth; this place is amazing.”
Others feel the same way. “Do not walk past this place when you visit downtown Delray. If you’re a true foodie tell Owner/Chef Michel you want to try the meatball first and you will be blown away! Then enjoy dinner and very fine wines! Support your local chef, there’s no one better!”
Some of the dishes that Ken and his guests (Sam and Judy Maru-ca) had been steeped in Italian tradition and prepared artfully and tastefully. They raved about the artichoke hearts basted in garlic with a wine sauce, sprinkled with Reggiano cheese. As lovers of homemade Italian food, the group feasted on Zuppa di Mussels in a light tomato sauce with clam broth, as well as Cowboy Rib-Eye
Peperonata with peppers, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms in a red tomato sauce.
Cooking has been a passion of Menna’s since he was a tot. When his parents were away, he would go into the kitchen and create gourmet dishes for them. “My parents would come home and say, ‘who catered this meal.’ I could barely reach the stove, but I loved cooking, it’s always been my creative outlet.”
His guests can tell. “This pasta made me feel like I was in Italy. We have been here so many times and it’s always wonderful,” said Maruca. His wife Judy was all smiles as the spaghetti with anchovies, garlic, olive oil, and breadcrumbs came to the table.
One of Menna’s finest dishes is his tequila tortellini, prepared tableside in a flame-lit pan that sparks the tequila to adhere to the creamy light sauce. Add that to the peas, prosciutto, and Reggiano cheese, and you have a delicious pasta that hails from the greats.
It seems Michel is always on the prowl for new dishes and new experiences. After all, he has been in the restaurant business for 40 years. Just recently he tasted potato latkes from another restaurant. Not impressed he quickly got out his frying pan and tried his hand at this ethnic dish. What he came up with is a potato latke lover’s dream. Tasty, crispy, and fresh, they seemed to disappear as quickly as they came to the table. He also added sour cream to the centerfold.
For Marilyn’s birthday, Menna cooked up a rack of lamb with roasted garlic and rosemary. It was a dream dish, she said. And she ought to know. The Boynton Beach resident cooked delicious authentic Italian meals for her family for years.
For Michel time does not stop. Though the restaurant business has been hard hit by the pandemic he continues to experiment in new ways to please guests. “I will be open for breakfast if people want me to. I make great omelets with fresh vegetables and other-style egg dishes. People just have to call me.”
Menna is also making fresh pizzas with all the trimmings of the pizza heritage. There is a difference between pizza and homemade pizza, and Michel wants to show everyone the difference. Also new at Il Contadino are fresh paninis and wraps with meats, fresh cheese, lettuce and tomato.
Other outstanding dishes are Pork Osso Bucco that is braised all day with tomatoes and vegetables as well Mozzarella En Carrozza. If you are a fish lover, try the whole Branzini, baked with garlic and wine, delicately cooked.
If you are celebrating a special occasion Menna will prepare homemade dishes for as many people can fit inside this intimate space. He also has over a thousand different wines from around the globe waiting to be opened.
The Chiaprella and Maruca clan had a bottle of Napa Valley Eagle Eye red wine that was divine. Full-bodied and smooth to the palette, it was an excellent choice. Whatever your wine preference is, Menna will make it happen.
That might be another reason people love dining there. “Michael and his staff take the farm-to-table concept to new heights. I had Eggplant Napoleon, wow. A fresh and delicious take on eggplant rollatini. His presentation of veal cutlet with eggplant gave new life to an old favorite – it was amazing. Topped it off with cannoli and cappuccino. Best ever. This place is the real deal,” said Doug.
It’s comments like Doug’s that make Michel smile. It is also what makes his passion flame – not only table side – but inside his heart.
IL CONTADINO RISTORANTE
165 NE 2nd Ave.
Catering and take-out are available