A warm, friendly setting combined with ample, flavorful recipes make a visit to Little Italy a pleasant experience.
Little Italy, in Dyer, was established by chef/owner Andrew Easterday in November 2013.
Easterday, a resident of Oak Lawn, Ill., said he wanted to offer Northwest Indiana residents a quality dining experience with his restaurant.
"What we wanted to do is, first of all, bring great food, and great atmosphere, great wines and great value to people," Easterday said. "This is something this area was screaming for."
Easterday, who mans the kitchen in the role of executive chef as well as owner, said he got started in the restaurant business as a teen washing dishes at a local Mexican restaurant in central Illinois. The chef hails from Charleston, Ill. and also honed his craft in restaurants in Carbondale, Ill. and later in various restaurants throughout Chicago.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Easterday also worked as a chef for Fornetto Mei at Chicago's Whitehall Hotel.
"I've always had plans to work for myself and see what that was like," said Easterday. While he oversees the kitchen, his wife helps run the front of the house and other aspects of the business.
The chef's cooking philosophy, he said, is rooted in the classics and the use of fresh, quality ingredients. "I want to add a little flair to the recipes," he said. Easterday said the menu at Little Italy will pretty much always have certain signature items but he plans on changing offerings seasonally. He also occasionally adds various specials.
During a recent visit to Little Italy for a Thursday night dinner, my friend and I enjoyed choosing items from the menu which featured some recipes that sounded appetizing just from their descriptions. For example, a rustic fondue ($8) sounded like a good item to start with as it featured a delicious blending of Fontina and Reggiano cheeses and was served with croutons and apples.
For entrees, we ordered the Crispy Pork Shoulder ($15 for the Little Italy small portion or $26 for the Big Italy larger portion); and the "Warm Your Soul" Gnocchi ($14 and $25). We also ordered a Caprese salad ($6 and $11) to share. All of the offerings at Little Italy come in small and large sizes. The smaller sizes, which we ordered, were ample portions. We had more than enough to take home for seconds.
The Crispy Pork Shoulder entree received raves at our table as well as from other diners that evening who were enjoying it for their dinner. The pork serving was large and the meat proved to be extremely tender. It was served in a flavorful natural juice with roasted portabella.
Other items on Little Italy's menu are rigatoni ($12 and $20); chicken Parmesan ($15 and $27); Caprese salad ($6 and $11) and brick oven pizza $10 to $13) which comes in various renditions from Wiseguy and Lombardy to Margherita.
During our visit, chef Easterday visited guests at their tables to ask about everyone's dining experience.
"I try to touch every table," he said, adding he likes to find out what people are enjoying and what they think about the food.
Diners bringing young family members to Little Italy will find that the restaurant has a "kids eat free" special from 4 to 6 p.m. everyday.
FYI: Little Italy is located at 1155 Joliet St., Dyer. Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. Call (219) 865-3040 or visit dyerlittleitaly.com. Reservations are accepted on Fridays and Saturdays.