by Kara Kimbrough
Watching the recent lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City conjured up delightful memories. Last Christmas, I was standing near this magnificent structure, gazing with awe at its thousands of lights and brilliant star. Since then, intermingled with the mental picture of the brightly lit tree has been the steaming platter of spaghetti and meatballs that friends and I enjoyed at nearby Carmine’s. Memories of this unbelievable Italian feast that included family-size platters of chicken parmesan and for dessert, a mammoth banana split-type dessert aptly named Baby Tugboat, have stayed with me all year. To say I’m anxious to return to NYC is an understatement.
Until then, I’ll have to console myself with Mississippi-made Italian dishes. Luckily, there are more than a few restaurants serving above-average pasta, pizzas and desserts. This week, I’ll mention a few in the Jackson area before venturing into north and south Mississippi in following weeks.
As with any restaurant these days, it’s best to call first and check out their specific guidelines for dining in, takeout and hours of operations.
Amerigo in Ridgeland and Flowood
From the, “I’ve never had a bad meal here,” files comes Amerigo. The restaurant has maintained a strong presence in the Jackson area restaurant scene since 1987. And, it shows no signs of stopping its 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. Another location was opened in Flowood in 2015 in the Market Street area off Lakeland Drive.
Almost everything on Amerigo’s menu is above average, but homemade pasta dishes have transformed Amerigo from just another Italian eatery to one that has withstood the test of time. Luring diners to its cozy tables are hearty, imaginative dishes like fettuccine imperial, spaghetti and meatballs, house-smoked duck and sausage pasta, oven-roasted lasagna, shrimp primavera, pasta pomodoro with chicken or shrimp, three-cheese tortellini with jumbo lump crabmeat, cannelloni al forno and, one of my favorite dishes from the early days, shrimp scampi. It’s one of the best renditions of shrimp scampi you’ll ever taste.
Cerami’s in Flowood
Cerami’s was one of the first restaurants I visited after moving to Jackson years ago. Located at the Reservoir, it was a favorite gathering spot for special occasions and 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. Alyssa decided in 2006 to revive the family’s successful eatery in a new spot, complete with original décor and most of the favorite menu items. 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 Res.
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. Just as they did in the past, diners have their favorite dishes. 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.
Angelo’s in Gluckstadt
A little further north, Angelo’s offers delicious pasta dishes, homemade pizza and much more, including barbecue and comfort food. But if you’re strictly in the mood for an Italian meal, the menu is filled with plenty of selections. I try to be versatile and try new dishes, but each time I’ve visited Angelo’s, I’ve gone straight to my favorite: spaghetti and meatballs. It’s an Italian feast of angel hair pasta, homemade meatballs, tomato gravy and Parmesan cheese. With a salad and side of homemade garlic bread, it’s easy to forget there are other items on the menu.
Other Italian specialties are spaghetti with sauce and cheese, chicken parmesan, lasagna, grilled chicken alfredo, chicken Sicily, shrimp Alfredo, seafood pasta and shrimp scampi.
Last, if, like me, you’re dreaming of a New York Christmas, there’s a way to enjoy a taste of the Big Apple despite the pandemic. NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization and convention and visitors bureau for the five boroughs of New York City, compiled a “Give the Gift of New York City” list. It contains links to some of the best food retailers and others that ship items right to your door. I can’t think of a better gift than a rich cheesecake from Junior’s, basket of deli items from Zabar’s, specialty cookies from Levain Bakery, bagels from Russ & Daughters and chocolate from Li-Lac Chocolates. For a complete list of holiday activities and shopping opportunities, visit nycgo.com/holidays.
Amerigo photo credit: Amerigo restaurant