DiBello's Italian Food & Sandwiches

Tony DiBello knows Italian cuisine. He cities his Italian family and prior home in the New York area as the driving force for opening DiBello's Italian Food & Sandwiches two months ago in east Medford.

Basing his business on the predictable format of pasta, pizza and specialty sandwiches, DiBello says he believes efforts to serve from-scratch food will give him an edge over other, similar restaurants in the Rogue Valley.

After lunching there on a recent weekday, I wondered if DiBello's could make enough of an impression to weather the rough economic climate that seems to be hitting local restaurants particularly hard. That was before I tried DiBello's Italian Seven-Layer Cookies. They could practically stake a bakery endeavor on this flagship item.

More of a cake than a cookie, it's appropriately assembled in layers colored to mimic the Italian flag. Seedless berry jam is sandwiched between the almond-flavored sponge, and the whole thing is topped off with a thin layer of dark chocolate.

Toting the treat back to the newspaper office, I was in raptures from the first bite, wishing I had a cup of coffee to complement the distinctive flavors.

The sweet, DiBello says, is popular on cookie trays in New York, where he fondly remembers trying to beat other family members to it. Since DiBello's presents an entire platter every day, customers shouldn't have to fight to get one. Italian Seven-Layer Cookies sell for $1.50 apiece or $3.75 for three.

But that's hardly the only reason to give DiBello's a try. The menu features a dozen or so pastas priced between $8.95 for spaghetti to $14.95 for linguine with clam sauce.

Twelve-inch Neapolitan-style pizzas range from $9.95 for the most basic — topped with marinara, mozzarella, Parmesan and oregano — to $14.95 for suprema (all eight toppings) or chicken alfredo.

On the higher end, diners can enjoy shrimp scampi or picante tossed with fettuccine for $19.95 or a boneless rib steak with roasted potatoes and vegetable of the day for $24.50. All dinner items are served with a choice of soup or salad.

DiBello's deviates from ordinary Italian fare with its frittatas, Italian-style omelets that many customers may consider more of a breakfast item. Priced at $7.50, which includes patrons' choice of two ingredients and either bread or roasted potatoes, the frittata is a nice change of pace.

I ordered one to go made with capicola, Swiss cheese and mushrooms on a recent weeknight and found it a satisfying, low-carb alternative to pizza. The frittata proves that eggs for dinner are underrated.

A large section of DiBello's menu is devoted to sandwiches — hot heros, customizable cold sandwiches, breaded chicken breasts and a burger. A cold ham sandwich can be had for $6.75, accompanied by homemade macaroni salad or roasted potatoes. The most expensive sandwich, filled with prosciutto di Parma, is $9.50.

I ordered the ham, capicola and salami sandwich ($7.95) with toppings of tomato, banana peppers, oil and vinegar for a recent weekday lunch. Heaped with meat almost 3 inches thick, the sandwich was more than ample. I saved half for the next day's lunch.

By contrast, my friend's portion of stuffed shells alfredo ($8.75) seemed a little skimpy, although we couldn't fault the flavors of the spinach filling or the sauce. A small side salad or cup of soup would make this dish an attractive lunch option. On the reduced-price lunch menu, either can be added for $2.50.

DiBello's decor with its clay-colored walls and stone fireplace is pleasant enough, although diners may want to bring a light sweater or jacket through the summer months. Restaurants are typically always a little chilly this time of year, but we found DiBello's unusually so.

Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Senior and kids' menus also are offered, as well as a special take-out menu of dishes selected because they travel well. Given the deliciousness of DiBello's Seven-Layer Cookies, customers should save room for one of seven other desserts, including tiramisu for $6.95

— Sarah Lemon

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