Bistro Romito is unpretentious and welcoming

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Romito's at 21 North Main St. in East Longmeadow is an institution in the town for breakfast and lunch. It's a classy, but comfortable neighborhood spot where the staff knows the names and the favorites of the regulars.

Their daytime meals are known for high quality and imagination and one would assume their new evening offerings would follow suit.

And they do.

Every evening the staff at Romito's puts the place through a transformation. Table set-ups for four with flowers and candles are arranged in the restaurant and unless you know Romito's daytime persona well, you might not realize the dual nature of the establishment.

The evening menu has a statement which sums up the philosophy of the new operation. During the evening, Romito's becomes a "bistro.[which] is meant to offer refuge from the outside world. It is an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere, reasonable prices and a traditional menu of home-style cooking."

My wife and I visited the other evening and were shown to our table by our very attentive server John. The restaurant was cozy and comfortable.

The menu includes a variety of appetizers, salads, seafood dishes, meat and fowl and sandwiches. While we making our decision fresh bread and an assortment of olives were brought to the table.

We needed the time, as the decision wasn't easy. The cheese lasagna ($7 and $13 for a large plate) with its combination of mozzarella, goat cheese and Gruyere looked interesting as did the squash bisque ($6) with caramelized apples.

Among the entr es were crab cakes ($10), sea scallops ($9 and $16 for a large plate), a flat iron steak served with house fries ($16) and a pasta Bolognaise ($13).

After a struggle we started our meal with an onion tartlet ($6), a delightful little onion pie with the sweet onion flavor one finds in a great French onion soup. It was delicious.

I settled on the shepherd's pie ($12), which substituted the traditional lamb or ground beef with a combination of ground veal, pork and beef with onions, mushrooms and bacon. Shepherd's pie may be a bit prosaic everybody makes one which is why I selected it. It's not only fun, but also a good test of a restaurant to experience their take on a familiar dish.

I liked the hearty portion and the fact the pie was topped with real mashed potatoes and a slice of melted cheddar cheese. It was a perfect choice for a cool autumn evening.

My wife chose the grilled chicken ($13), which was a boneless chicken breast cooked to perfection and served with a shallot and cranberry compote. She loved it.

Romito's seems to be expertly managing its two identities with delicious results. Their dinner menu is available after 5 p.m. for dining in, pick-up or delivery on Wednesday through Saturday. Full bar service is available for dining-in customers.