We're here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. If you have even 10 bucks to spare, Joe and Carolina Coreno are waiting to make you feel like famiglia in their homey little restaurant, Caffé Roma (13900 Lorain Avenue, 216-889-9999).
The menu's nothing fancy, composed mostly of pasta dishes, along with a few sandwiches, a simple pizza, and some pastries. There's no beer or wine list, although the cooler by the front door is stocked with Perrier and San Pellegrino. And while the surroundings are clean and comfy, the napkins are paper, the cups are plastic, and dishes are unapologetically mismatched. But when you and a bud each can snare an ample portion of spaghetti and homemade meatballs ($5.99) and share a freshly stuffed cannoli ($2.50), and still take home change from a $20, that's what we call a good deal. (Feeling flush? Finish up with a demitasse of dark, wine-like espresso for another $1.50.)
What's more remarkable: Plump, maternal Carolina makes nearly everything -- sauces, soups, breads, pizza dough, and pastries -- from scratch. And what she doesn't make herself, she obtains locally, including gelato from East Side impresario Valerio Iorio (Valerio's Ristorante and La Gelateria); lean, achingly tender Italian sausage made by an Italian buddy; and sinfully rich tiramisu baked by her sister. The result is an old-fashioned sit-down meal that's as satisfying as it is easy on the budget.
Caffé Roma is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tell 'em Mom sent you.
Wine time . . . Oenophiles still have a few weeks left to get in shape for the annual Heinen's/WVIZ World Series of Wine. Now marking its 10th season, the event seems to get bigger and more elaborate each year. This year's lineup, scheduled for Thursday, November 3, through Saturday, November 5, includes three Grand Tastings in the Terrace Club overlooking Jacobs Field; three Winery Dinners, held simultaneously at Moxie, Blue Canyon Kitchen, and Theory; and six wine-tasting seminars in private meeting rooms at the downtown Renaissance Hotel. There will also be two "on-location" wine seminars, one at Lolita, where chef-owner Michael Symon will be joined by Baricelli Inn chef-owner Paul Minnillo, and the other at Moxie, where chef-partner Jon Bennett and Elizabeth Parrino Harlor of Vintage Wine Distributor will step up to the plate. For the complete batting order, visit www.wviz.org and click on the World Series of Wine link.
Cooking up a storm . . . Some of the city's top restaurants, including fire, Fahrenheit, Moxie, Red the Steakhouse, Vivo, Lolita, and Sergio's in University Circle have signed up to take part in next week's Share Our Strength fund-raiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Doing your part couldn't be easier. Just make reservations to dine at any of these fine spots on Tuesday, September 27, and a portion of every dollar you spend goes directly toward relief efforts, including the affected regions' food banks and programs assisting displaced restaurant employees. The list of participating restaurants grows daily; to see if your favorite Cleveland-area dining room has signed up and to make reservations, go to www.restaurantsforrelief.com.