Cozy Silvio’s delivers on classic Italian fare

Bill Silvio Melillo, right, talks with patrons at Silvio's Italian Restaurant. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

Bill Silvio Melillo, right, talks with patrons at Silvio’s Italian Restaurant. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

When a massive fire gutted both SuperChefs and Maria’s Greek Deli in St. Matthews in January, the restaurants on either side of those two businesses were miraculously spared. El Tarasco, a Mexican restaurant that had been there for years, was buffered by another small business, but Silvio’s Italian Restaurant, which had just opened the previous September, was directly in harm’s way.

But the damage was minimal, and six months later, the Italian eatery appears to have become a neighborhood staple in its small spot at 104 Fairfax Ave., just off Shelbyville Road across from Trinity High School.

Friendly owner Bill Melillo, whose middle name is Silvio, works the restaurant greeting and engaging customers, often facing a packed house, especially on weekends. The reviews have been positive, and the truth is, Silvio’s is simply a cozy, inviting place to dine. (Melillo is part of the family that owned a previous Louisville favorite, Melillo’s.)

Silvios lasagna

Cheese lasagna | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The fare is authentic Italian focusing on pasta dishes and a few select appetizers, with a short but reasonable wine list and a modern yet homey atmosphere. Black and white family photos adorn one wall, and a painted portrait of Frank Sinatra hangs across the room. It’s family-friendly with ample but not over-the-top portions of quality food.

I’d been wanting to go for a while and finally made it in recently for dinner. My girlfriend Cynthia and I were seated quickly, choosing a high-top table near the bar. Quickly, Melillo greeted us from his spot behind the bar. We soon watched him make the rounds, greeting customers he recognized and introducing himself to those he didn’t. He greeted us a second time after we’d finished our meal, making sure we were happy with the experience. We were.

We had opted not to order an appetizer, instead focusing on the complimentary bread and sweet, creamy butter spread — you’ll never run out of bread at Silvio’s — but I later regretted not trying the antipasto platter of salami, mortadella, Bavarian ham, pepperoni, provolone cheese, olives and roasted red peppers. Next time. Well, unless I get the calamari, which our friendly server Erin eagerly recommended. She also spoke highly of the rice balls, warning us they are filling.

But for dinner, we went all out — Cynthia ordered cheese lasagna, while I opted for aglio olio, a spicy dish featuring angel hair pasta, to which I added shrimp.

Both meals came with a side salad, of which there are two choices: classic Caesar (anchovies optional) or the house Melillo salad featuring Romaine and baby greens with roma tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions with a subtle but tangy oil-based house dressing. Both salads were solid, if unremarkable.

We had plenty of time to finish our salads before our meals came out, and both dinners were presented handsomely; my pasta was sprinkled with chopped parsley for a bit of color, which proved a nice contrast to the flecks of red pepper that gave the pasta its spicy kick. The flavor here was subtle, with the “sauce” consisting of white wine and olive oil, but adding six plump and fresh-tasting shrimp made it a lighter-side Italian dinner — perfect for me since I often find Italian food a bit heavy for my liking. And if you like spicy food, well, the mild burn in this dish comes to stay.

Silvios seafood pasta

Aglio olio with shrimp | Photo by Kevin Gibson

But based on pure flavor, Cynthia’s lasagna was the winner, as the rich ricotta cheese, blended with mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, was a perfect match for the delicious, fresh-made marinara. Thank goodness Cynthia was willing to share, because I couldn’t stop stealing bites — not that I didn’t enjoy my meal (I didn’t leave a single noodle), but that lasagna was classic Italian food for the soul. It will be difficult not to order it next time (right after I eat my calamari and antipasto).

One cool feature at Silvio’s is the “sides” available — if you want to add meat to your dish, you can get a meatball or Italian sausage for an addition $3. Let me just say the meatballs at Silvio’s are about the size of a softball, and they look delicious. Chicken and shrimp are also options as add-ons.

Erin recited the surprisingly long dessert menu to us, suggesting the Italian cream cake, but it was the chocolate mocha cake that caught Cynthia’s fancy. The generous slice of four-layer cake with chunks of dark chocolate imbedded into the rich icing lived up to her expectations, rounding out an enjoyable meal with a rich exclamation point.

Appetizers range from $8 to $13, while entrees start at $11 and top out at $22 for the pasta with seafood, which features mussels, shrimp and scallops with angel hair pasta. There is also a short list of bottled beers with several Italian options and signature cocktails.

Hours are Monday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m. (Closed Sundays.)