A few weeks ago I asked my mom if she wanted to go to dinner. I had been telling her about these wonderful restaurants in the Des Moines Metro that she had to try. There were several places I had in mind, but it quickly was apparent to me that the one I thought she’d enjoy the most was Cafe di Scala. Located in a beautiful Victorian home in the Sherman Hills neighborhood, Cafe di Scala is the masterpiece of chef Tony Lemmo. Named after Italy’s quaint Southern town of Scala Coeli.
I had heard about Cafe di Scala for quite a while before actually getting the opportunity to try it. Although I was somewhat familiar with the restaurant, I too hadn’t been here either. So it was nice new experience for both my mom and I.
The menu at Cafe di Scala is simple. It’s small, but it’s the kind where there really are no bad options. So often it feels that restaurants are trying to please everyone with large menus that obviously lack inspiration, direction, or cohesion. Not so here.
We both agreed that we wanted to begin with an antipasti. As we were discussing the menu, the young couple sitting next to us suggested we try the Pizza Fritta. They were convincing, explaining they had tried many of the items on the menu, and although you really couldn’t go wrong with anything there, that it was the Pizza Fritta we had to start with.
I can’t speak to the other antipasti but the Pizza Fritta was wonderful. Essentially a light pizza featuring fresh toppings including chicken, onion, and garlic. Generally, I steer clear of chicken on pizza, but the chicken was a welcomed addition.
We both agreed that we’d split whatever we ordered as we each had a hard time deciding on just one entree and we knew we had to try their Manzo. The Manzo is a New York Strip, with polenta cakes and asparagus.
I was immediately impressed with the presentation. The steak was inviting, adorned with herbed butter. It was prepared perfectly as we both agreed it was one of the best steaks we’d ever had. The asparagus was good, cooked with olive oil and seasoned perfectly. I’m a big fan of polenta and their polenta cakes were wonderful. Rich and moist with a nice crust.
Cafe di Scala is known for making everything themselves, including their pasta. So it was an easy decision to select a pasta dish. We settled on the Tagliatelle Primavera.
The carrot tagliatelle pasta was exceptional, perfectly topped with peas, asparagus, roasted tomatoes and diced radishes, and everything was brought together with a homemade cream sauce. It was simple, yet intoxicating. I’ve heard it before, but in nothing else that we tried was it so apparently, that the real art of Cafe di Scala is their ability to pair ingredients. Everything has a place, everything has been thought through. If it is doesn’t belong, it isn’t there. I was concerned that the radishes would over power the dish, but they were right at home.
I had been told that I had to try their Italian Wedding Cake. So when it was time to place the order for dessert and our waitress went through our options, it was clear what to order.
Italian Wedding Cake and I go back almost 10 years to when my wife was going to college at Waldorf. Our favorite restaurant in Forest City was located in the back of an antique shop, Flora Lynne’s. Their menu changed daily and everything they made was exceptional. All the recipes were made from scratch, likely pulled right out of someone’s family cookbook. If we were lucky enough, they would offer their Italian Cream Cake. We were so smitten with it that we obtained a copy of their cookbook with the recipe of the cake and my mom made it for our wedding. There at Cafe di Scala it was a perfect moment, my mom who had baked for me all my life and had baked the Italian Cream Cake for my wedding was there to try Cafe di Scala’s famous Wedding Cake, inspired by Tony Lemmo’s own mother. The cake was perfect, just like the one she made for our wedding and the one we’d order whenever we were lucky enough at Flora Lynne’s.
Taking up the first floor of chef Tony Lemmo’s personal residence, the decor of the restaurant is obviously beautiful. I love architecture and old homes, so to me it couldn’t get any better. The service was impecable. At one point, the couple next to us knocked over their red wine, staining the table cloth and leaving a nice puddle on the floor. Not more than 30 seconds after the glass hit the table, two waitresses ran out with a new table cloth and had the floor wiped up. The lady who had spilled the wine was very apologetic, but the waitress did an exceptional job of comforting her, explaining that it was no big deal and that this kind of thing happens all the time.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of dining at Cafe di Scala, do yourself a favor and make a reservation now.