Avanti Cafe: Twenty Years in the Making
There's something wonderful to be said about the neighborhood Italian restaurant. It usually has something to do with keeping prices low, great, substantial food, served cheerfully and graciously, an array of many delicious recipes, much appreciated by busy people, unable to cook for themselves.
The glass-walled, medium-sized friendly reception accorded everyone who enters the one-generation old Avanti Cafe is genuine and warm. Located five minutes from beautiful downtown Pasadena, Bobby Ghofranian, Iranian owner and master chef, has created an establishment quite popular in his neighborhood for all the right reasons.
We saw one of his ads indicating that Avanti was voted the "Best Gourmet Pizza for 13 years 1994-2007" by the Pasadena Weekly Reader's Poll and that Elmer Dills agreed with that decision. In my constant search for the best pizza in L.A., I called, made a reservation and together with my beautiful Fran, sojourned there enroute to the Pasadena Playhouse.
We began dinner with a shared Antipasto, one of their eleven salad offerings and, at $7.50, absolutely first rate. It consisted of a mix of romaine and iceberg lettuce with sliced tomatoes, red onions, pepperoncini, cubes of provolone cheese, slices of pepperoni and olives, marinated artichoke hearts in a warm, delicious, mild Italian dressing. It was a great beginning.
A large, generous slice of lasagna followed, served with a half-dozen garlic rolls – the taste of which lingers in my memory even as I write these words. The only lasagna I like better is the one my wife prepares for special events. It was oh so good, filled with meat, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, all bathed in a most tempting tomato sauce. This is $9.75 and enough for three. Unfortunately, our mushroom, sausage and meatball pizza did not live up to the high standards I've set for pizza. Though it's wood-fired, the dough was too bland, too flat with little, if any, crunch and was disappointing. All the toppings were very good and the cheese did have that stringy quality I love but it all added up to a less-than-solid "B" for me. In perfect fairness, both parties sitting on either side of us were eating Bobby's "From the Garden" pizza and extolling it to the heights. This is just one of sixteen different "Gourmet" pizzas they prepare.
I'm certain my Bronx upbringing has much to do with my assessment; therefore, I urge you to visit Avanti Cafe and critically evaluate for yourself whether Dills or Feinstein is correct. And, when you go, please do tell 'em Giuseppe sent you. One thing is certain, you, like so many of their customers, will come out smiling!
Avanti Café; 111 N. Lake Avenue, Pasadena CA 91101; Tel. 626-577-4688; Open every day Free parking in the rear; Approx. $30 for two w/o wine; full menu at www.avanticafe.com