Decades before celebrity chefs like Giada De Laurentis and Mario Batali brought fine Italian dining into our living rooms courtesy of television’s Food Network, Amerigo taught Jacksonians how to enjoy refined Italian fare at its Ridgeland restaurant. In the constant revolving door of new restaurants that have come and gone, Amerigo has maintained a strong presence in the Jackson area restaurant scene since 1987, and it shows no signs of stopping the production of made-from-scratch pastas, sauces, pizzas, and other Italian dishes that became instant hits when it opened on Old Canton Road near County Line Road and Lake Harbour Drive.
Amerigo has done so well in Ridgeland that another location was opened in Flowood in 2015 in the Market Street area off Lakeland Drive. The two Mississippi locations joined three others in Tennessee. However, the Ridgeland location is the one I first visited in 1987 soon after its opening and the one to which I keep returning. There’s something about this spacey, airy place filled with the aroma of fragrant marinara emanating from the kitchen that keeps luring me back.
The restaurant menu has changed a bit over the years, as one would expect. One of my favorite dishes from the “anything goes ‘80’s and 90’s” was straw and hay. It’s a decadent combination of heavy cream sauce, prosciutto, spinach, and fresh egg fettuccine. It’s been replaced with healthier fare, as one might expect.
Amerigo still presents the traditional Italian courses of pasta; secondi of meat and vegetables and dessert, but with many new dishes reflecting the health-conscious lifestyles of millennials as well as older customers. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, and that’s Amerigo’s ability to delight diners.
For starters, creative accompaniments like Tuscan Crab Cakes ($7.50 and $14); Oven Roasted Artichoke Cheese Dip ($10.50); Shrimp Bisque ($5 and $7); and Bruschetta Amerigo ($10) are delicious breaths or satisfying sighs between bites from the rest of this pasta-centric menu.
Almost everything on Amerigo’s menu is above average, but pardon the phrase – Mama Mia! Its homemade pastas have transformed Amerigo from just another Italian eatery on the potential chopping block to a stalwart that isn’t going anywhere. Luring diners to its cozy tables are hearty, imaginative dishes like Crawfish Pasta ($14); Fettuccine Imperial ($14); Spaghetti and Meatballs ($12) House-smoked Duck and Sausage Pasta ($14); Oven-roasted Lasagna ($13); Shrimp Primavera ($16); Pasta Pomodoro with chicken or shrimp ($14.50 and $15.50); Goat Cheese and Penne with chicken or shrimp ($13.50 and $14.50); Three-cheese Tortellini with jumbo lump crabmeat ($16); Smoked Chicken Ravioli ($14.50) and Cannelloni al Forno ($14.50).
Luckily, one of my favorite dishes from the early days, Shrimp Scampi ($17), is still on the menu. A spicy shrimp scampi mixture is served over angel hair pasta with white wine garlic butter, scallions, and tomatoes. It’s one of the best renditions of shrimp scampi you’ll ever taste.
If you’re looking for a lighter meal, try one of several hearty salads on the menu. A few I recommend include bow tie pasta Caesar ($12); Pollo with Shrimp ($13); and Mediterranean Pasta Salad with grilled shrimp ($15). Each salad can be dressed with a variety of homemade dressings.
Craving a genuine Italian pizza? You’ve come to the perfect place. Choose from a number of spicy, creative pizzas, including pepperoni ($12); Italian sausage and cheese ($11); house smoked chicken and spinach ($13); and a perfect choice on a hot summer day, a light, fresh and meatless Margherita ($10) topped with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella.
A collection of creative and artfully prepared dinner entrees featuring chicken, steak, pork, veal, and seafood are also on Amerigo’s menu.
A sample include chicken Margarite ($13); Tuscan Ribeye ($30); Ceal Saltimbocca ($24); Flame-grilled Salmon Filet ($16-$23); Cedar Roasted Pork Chop ($24); Chicken or Veal Piccata ($18.50-$20.50); Chicken or Veal Parmesan ($16.50-$19.50); and Chicken or Veal Marsala ($18.50-$20.50).
There are also nice touches to end the meal. You can’t go wrong with homemade key lime pie; pecan butter crunch cake; gluten free cheesecake, and chocolate pecan fudge brownie ($7.50 each). And Amerigo serves some of the best tiramisus ($8) I’ve ever tasted.
Amerigo offers a lighter lunch menu with soup, sandwich, and salad combinations, among other items. However, the full dinner menu is offered from open to close daily. Also offered are early bird specials, weekend brunch, gluten-free modifications, and an extensive wine list. Amerigo is located at 6592 Old Canton Road in Ridgeland. Call 601-977-0563 for reservations or to reserve a private room.
Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Here’s my rendition of my favorite Amerigo’s dish:
Amerigo-esque Shrimp Scampi
1 pound angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of one lemon, plus 1/2 lemon, zested
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
5 tablespoons butter or butter substitute
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Place pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water, over medium heat, and cook until al dente.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Once oil is hot, add the shrimp and saute until just cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and reserve. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet, then saute for until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and white wine or chicken broth and increase heat to high. Let the liquid reduce for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the butter, add a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and return the shrimp. Remove from heat.
Drain pasta and add it to the skillet along with the chopped parsley and toss. Add the lemon zest and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to a serving platter and serve scampi mixture over hot pasta.