Fill Up on Great Food, Family Feeling

The Detroit Free Press
By Judy Rose - Free Press Staff Writer
Date: Friday, October 1, 1999
Page: 12E
Edition: Metro Final
Section: Features

Drive past Lino's and all you'll think is that the pretty, manicured building looks like a nice place to stop for spaghetti.

But make that first stop, and you will turn into a convert. Here, fine cuisine meets Italian grandmas. The kitchen is anchored by longtime Joe Muer executive chef Andy Toth. The pastas and sauces are made fresh by the family, Lino Borraccio's mother, Rosa; his wife, Vera; Vera's mother, Angela Bettraino, and two of Bettraino's friends -- all from the same area about 80 miles south of Rome.

Lino's has the look and feel of a family restaurant. Pictures of Italy are on the walls; the color scheme is dark, the booths ample, the waitresses motherly.

But the very good food makes Lino's a destination restaurant -- worth a drive from another city.

There are six kinds of veal -- tosca, marsala, limone, Milanese, parmigiana and alla guiliana (with vodka). Can't decide? There's a veal sampler -- choose three.

The house-made pastas are wonderful. Twice each week, Angela Bettraino and friends create fresh ravioli and lasagna and gnocchi. (The al dente pastas -- spaghetti, linguini and so forth -- are imported dry from Italy.) Rosa Borraccio makes the hearty sauce.

Lino and Vera Borraccio have built their business slowly over the last 11 years, with no advertising, one convert at a time. "I think we have more repeat business than any other restaurant in town," says Lino Borraccio.

They pay great attention to small details. For example, with the inevitable leftovers, they won't drop a take-out box on your table. They'll take the food back to the kitchen and bring it back wrapped tightly against dripping and nicely labeled with what's inside.

Lino's is an especially nice place to take a group. The staff handles big tables seamlessly. The longtime waitresses are more than competent; they seem to care. They want you to have a good time. They want the birthday person in your party to feel special. They are as far from prima donna servers as you can get.

The menu is large, but no part seems treated as an afterthought. Some of the good things include:

Lasagna -- a treat if you've only had lasagna made with thick, ripple-edged pasta. Lino's thin, tender sheets are not stacked like floors of an office building but piled loosely into a rich dish of meat and cheese. There's also vegetarian lasagna.

Perch is a frequent special, sauteed in butter. The delicate little fillets come to the table moist but never greasy.

The penne puttanesca is a spicy pasta with tomatoes, capers, hot peppers and a lot of olives. And the gnocchi with Gorgonzola cheese sauce is memorable.

Side dishes can also be surprisingly good. Some favorites include: chicken and artichoke soup, rich and creamy with big chunks of chicken; the pine nut salad dressing, a light vinaigrette with a slight bit of sweetness to complement the nuts; and the farmer's salad, a no-lettuce salad with chunky vegetables in the house dressing.

If there's any small complaint about the food, it's that once in a great while, the salt content seems a little over the top.

The tiramisu is especially fine. Vera Borraccio makes it fresh every day -- twice a day when there's a run -- along with the fresh cannoli. Her version is the classic, says Lino Borraccio. It's very moist and served in a stemmed glass. Between making desserts and supervising the pasta team, Vera Borraccio is also the cordial hostess.

"She gets me in trouble," says her husband, "because she always promises certain tables to too many people."