Wednesday, April 9, 2008

$13 at ... Massimo da Milano

Posted By on Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 7:03 AM

In this weekly feature, C-Notes stretches your dollar at restaurants around the region, because you can only eat Easy Mac at your desk for lunch so many times. This week … Massimo da Milano 1400 West 25th Street, Cleveland, (216) 696-2323, www.massimos.net What $13 got us: Two (ish) all you can eat buffet lunches What else $13 can get you: Two (ish) all you can eat buffet lunches, or one all you can eat buffet lunch and change to spare. The Verdict: Grab a plate and don’t plan on having a super-productive afternoon. In the world of downtown lunching, prices can be a little daunting, at least by Cleveland standards. Even a sandwich of dubious quality can set you back a ten spot pretty quickly at many establishments. So I was greatly enthused to see a $6.95 Italian lunch buffet offered at Massimo da Milano, just a jaunt over the Detroit-Superior Bridge from downtown. ... As a general rule, I’m a strong buffet proponent. The buffet offers selection and variety—it’s like tapas dining at a fraction of the price. And I’m pleased to report that the Massimo buffet doesn’t disappoint. The spot—handily located in the historic Forest Bank building on the corner of W. 25th and Detroit—is a quick drive from downtown and has a free parking lot. $6.95 gets you an all-you-can-eat dine-in experience, so for $13 dollars, you can even buy lunch for your buddy (if you’re being a stickler about that last dollar, have them drive. With gas prices the way they are, you’ll still come out on top.) Do be warned, however, that soda isn’t included and can lead to an unexpected extra buck fifty on your bill, but it does include free refills. The huge dining facility, often appropriated for private events and political fundraisers in the evening, is open and airy. The service is extremely attentive—the server even patted my shoulder fondly at one point, which is quite nice if you’re into that type of thing, which I definitely am. The buffet’s selection will vary slightly by day, to include various specials. On my visit, the spread included a soup special, antipasto station, several hot dishes, and desserts. Plate in hand, and viewing the spread, my dining companion and I each took a separate, distinctive buffet approach. He went for the more traditional first-plate antipasto-only method, whereas I employed my mother’s “take a little bit of everything and then come back for more of what you liked” concept. The antipasto offerings included a salad tossed in a zingy dressing, a creamy chicken salad, chunks of fresh, savory salami, exceptionally good wedges of soft provolone and olives. The soup of the day was a forgettable pasta fagioli, the macaroni pasta having sat too long in the soup and gotten a bit mushy. But the crispy, lightly seasoned focaccia equaled things out. The pasta offerings included a perfectly al dente spaghetti in a hearty meat marinara, and penne covered in oil and herbs with a strong presence of basil. A slightly over-seasoned chicken breast was far surpassed by the excellent bone-in roast chicken pieces, which were tender, moist, and pleasantly dressed in a subtle sauce. There was also a puzzling array of three sausages — patties, breakfast links, and Italian sausage—and I opted for the Italian, swimming in a delicate red sauce. It was spicy and paired perfectly atop the spaghetti in red sauce. My second trip included seconds on the spaghetti, focaccia, provolone, sausage, and that excellent roast chicken. My companion’s second plate quickly devolved into a heap of mixed and matched sauces, pastas and meats—he took my Grandpa’s goulash tack this time, and claimed he was quite satisfied with the results. The desserts included several sweet breads, pastries, and a hot dessert that was gone by the time I got there. I wasn’t concerned, as I only had room for the delicious lemon poppy-seed bread and a few bites of the cinnamon apple bread, both of which were quite moist and pleasantly spongy. In the hierarchy of Italian eats in Cleveland, this brunch certainly doesn’t match the lofty heights of a Little Italy meal, but it far-and-away exceeds an Olive Garden experience. Which is as it should be. For $6.95, you can gorge yourself on solid, Italian comfort food and get back to work in plenty of time. Though not falling asleep on your key board after such a feast may prove to be a challenge. -- Tori Woods

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