Redundancy could be the first impression of a casual Italian restaurant next door to a popular pizzeria.
Paisano’s Italian Kitchen has instead distinguished itself over the past six years in Rogue River by focusing on several specialties done well. Fresh, handmade pasta for its lasagna and, time permitting, mozzarella also made in-house set Paisano’s apart from so many other Italian eateries. In a town of limited dining options, the restaurant also hits the right note with counter service and grab-and-go deli items in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Accommodating multiple children younger than school-age tests the hospitality of any restaurant, at least those that don’t market themselves to kids. Paisano’s had just opened when I arrived, both sons in tow, for an early lunch.
Without a cup of Crayons in sight, the boys contented themselves by ogling shelves of imported Italian foodstuffs and kitschy candle wax-dribbled wine bottles that constitute Paisano’s décor. Lacking a kids menu, Paisano’s has no shortage of dishes that suit young eaters. The day’s lunch special, a quarter meatball sandwich, was the perfect size to split between a 3-year-old and his 1-year-old brother. And the price of $3.95 couldn’t be beat.
I also weighed the appeal of arancini to palates accustomed to fairly plain foods. But I confess to ordering the deep-fried, cheese-stuffed risotto balls primarily for myself. Figuring the fritters may find favor with my boys, I asked for a full order of three ($9.95), rather than one for $3.50. A bowl of the day’s tomato-basil soup ($4.95) also enticed.
My mother-in-law, Ann, selected the Caprese panini ($8.95) from a lineup of hot and cold sandwiches. Classic Italian subs and meatball and sausage sandwiches are priced at $10.95. If it wasn’t for our home garden’s supply of eggplant, I would have been hard-pressed to pass up the eggplant Parmesan sub ($11.95).
The classic eggplant dish over pasta is among “Paisano’s favorites.” Lasagna, primavera, spaghetti with marinara sauce, meat sauce or meatballs and fettucini alfredo with optional add-ons of chicken or shrimp are priced from $8.95 to $11.95. “The mess,” a mélange of meatballs and Italian sausage over spaghetti in meat sauce, is the most expensive item at $15.95.
About the size of a baseball, the meatball on our sandwich had a moist, homogenous texture and rich flavor uncomplicated by too many herbs or spices. The boys gobbled it up, along with the tomato-sauced roll that conveyed it.
Also reposing in a pool of marinara, my arancini rivaled the meatball for size. Encased in crunchy breading and generously stuffed with mozzarella — although not homemade — the risotto balls were a bit bland but a respectable rendition, nevertheless, of this Italian comfort food.
Homemade mozzarella did have a starring role in Ann’s sandwich, layered with tomato, basil and muffuletta spread. When Paisano’s can keep up with demand, portions of the freshly made cheese can be purchased from its deli case, along with meats sliced to order, brine-cured olives and pasta and green salads.
A hearty meal under our belts warranted a sweet reward. Chocolate-hazelnut cookies were still warm from the oven. And although their temperature didn’t allow for frosting with Nutella, a sprinkle of powdered sugar satisfied my older son. Predictably, I gravitated to the lemon-ricotta cookie, which offered a dense, yet tender crumb paired with a sweet-tart icing stippled with lemon zest. Both the homemade bread pudding and Italian wine cake beckon us to return.
Located at 510 E. Main St., Rogue River, Paisano’s is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday. Call 541-582-5990.