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Cerami's Italian Restaurant Was Great at The Rez; Now Thriving in Flowood

Italian comfort food. Traditional red sauce restaurant. Old-school spaghetti and meatballs. Lasagna that tastes like an Italian grandmother made it. Just a few of the positive descriptions of Cerami’s Italian Restaurant in Flowood, a name that’s been part of the Jackson restaurant scene since 1977.

Cerami’s was one of the first restaurants I visited after moving to Jackson years ago. The original Cerami’s was located at the Reservoir and was a favorite gathering spot for special occasions and just a good Italian meal until it closed in 1992. Thankfully, it’s now flourishing in a new spot on Lakeland Drive under the direction of Alyssa Cerami, daughter of founder Fred Cerami. Like most family-owned restaurants operated with a quest for excellence, the qualities that made it successful on the Rez have translated quite nicely to its new home a little further south.

Not only is it a friendly, interesting, neighborhood place, but Cerami’s also has a unique history that adds to its allure. While in college, Brooklyn native Cerami began selling hot dogs from a roadside wagon to make money. After discovering he had a knack for selling food, he moved to Jackson and opened his namesake restaurant in 1977. Diners flocked to the eclectic eatery on the Rez to sample authentic dishes made from Cerami’s Sicilian family recipes and to get a warm hug or handshake from the affable owner. He eventually moved on to other ventures, but kept the original décor that adorned every nook and cranny of the restaurant.

Fast forward to 2006, and daughter Alyssa decided to revive the family’s successful eatery in a new spot, complete with original décor and most of the favorite menu items. Today, the “new” Cerami’s is flourishing under Alyssa leadership, but patrons who remember the “old” place don’t leave disappointed.

With the same Old World ambiance as the former restaurant, classic dishes from the past, a few menu additions, and, if you’re lucky, a warm greeting from Fred, it’s easy to forget you're not on the banks of the Rez.

From its early days, the menu at Cerami’s has grown from its signature lasagna and spaghetti to a full range of Italian specialties – appetizers, salads, sandwiches, seafood, pasta, and desserts. One of many staples from the “old days” is Cerami’s overflowing salad wagon. It was a treat in the past to head to the “wagon” and create a salad plate topped with creamy, homemade Italian dressing, and it’s still fun today.

Just as they did in the past, diners claim their favorite dishes. There are the stuffed mushrooms filled with crabmeat stuffing and topped with cream sauce. Baked lasagna with beef, marinara sauce, and cheeses is a top-seller, as is Shrimp Cerami, jumbo sautéed shrimp tossed in a creamy white wine reduction with capers, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts and served over angel hair pasta. And last, there's my personal favorite, a choice that hasn’t wavered over the years - old school spaghetti and meatballs, pictured below courtesy of Cerami's Facebook.

I know, it’s a habit that I need to break. But as often happens, once I sample an Italian restaurant dish that checks all the boxes - homemade pasta, spicy and slightly-chunked fresh marinara sauce and plump, juicy meatballs –I rarely deviate. With a side of fresh garlic bread and a trip to the salad wagon, it was a memorable meal back in the 1990s and is still a near-perfect dining experience today.

If you like to prefer to try new dishes, Cerami’s adequately meets the need with its diverse menu. Alyssa has strived to complement her father’s original menu with customers' requests. The addition of grilled ribeyes has been greeted warmly by customers. Other favorites are smaller filets, grilled pork chops, and a lineup of flatbread pizzas.

In a nod to their Italian heritage, a pizza named The Wise Guy is a bestseller. Topped with grilled chicken and bacon, creamy Alfredo sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a balsamic glaze reduction, it’s easy to understand why.

A quick rundown of the remainder of the menu includes appetizers like baked oysters, crab cakes, New Orleans barbecue shrimp, calamari, stuffed eggplant, mozzarella cheese sticks, smoked wings, and my usual choice, fried ravioli.

Besides the ones I mentioned, entrees consist of dinner-size ravioli; pesto pasta; tortellini; eggplant or chicken parmesan; chicken alfredo, picatta and carbonara; sausage al forno; cannelloni Florentine; veal parmesan and picatta; shrimp scampi, alfredo and Cerami; tuna or salmon affumicato; redfish Cajun pasta; and frutti de mare, or fruit of the sea. A trip to the salad wagon and garlic bread come with each entrée.

Desserts are offered on a rotating basis. If crème brulee or Italian cream cake are on the menu, you won’t go wrong with either one.

Cerami’s food is moderately priced when the attention to detail and made-from-scratch dishes are considered. With appetizers ranging from $7.95 for my pick, fried ravioli, to $16.95 for baked oysters. Entrees start at $16.95 for pasta dishes and eggplant parmesan. On the higher end are veal parmesan and piccata at $22.95. Steaks are $29.95 and ala carte items range from $6 for a small bowl of pasta to $11.95 for seafood.

The restaurant is located at 5417 Lakeland Dr. in Flowood. It’s not open for lunch and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Dinner hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Writing about Cerami's spaghetti and meatballs created a craving that could only be satisfied by making a pan to serve over pasta and sauce this week. They'll have to suffice until Cerami's shares their recipe with me.

Italian-Style Meatballs

1 pound ground chuck

1 pound ground pork

1-1/2 cup crackers, pulsed into breadcrumbs in a food processor or crush by hand in a Ziplock

3/4 cups parmesan cheese

1 cup cold water

2 large eggs

1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix ground meat with cracker crumbs, cheese, water, eggs, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper. Mix well to incorporate everything.

Form meat mixture into approximately 24 golf ball-sized meatballs. Place meatballs

into two 9x13-inch oven-safe casserole dishes with one tablespoon of olive oil in each. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until meatballs look browned and oil is bubbling. (The internal temperature should read 165 degrees F)

Remove meatballs from oven and allow them to cool. Serve by themselves or put them into a pot of marinara sauce and simmer for one hour before serving over pasta.

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