RESTAURANT REVIEW

At Accurso’s, tradition meets new ideas with mixed results

Updated: 2013-05-02T00:34:22Z

By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA

The Kansas City Star

For nearly three decades, Accurso’s Italian Restaurant was best known as a $5 lunch spot, offering hearty meatball grinders and Italian steak sandwiches. But in mid-2011, the original owner’s nephew took over the modest neighborhood deli, relocated to a new retail development a block down Main Street and got to work on a restaurant makeover.

Anthony Accurso, 26, designed a sleeker space, yet it’s clear that he’s still paying homage to his family’s roots with sepia-toned family photos on one wall and a menu still aiming to balance the whims of a hipper dining crowd while taking care of loyal regulars.

Enthusiastic and energetic, Accurso is bopping around the dining room nearly every night. His spiky hair and sweet grin might have you mistake him for your waiter or a busboy out of uniform. But to earn his stripes, Accurso worked the line for six months, learning his way around the kitchen and tweaking recipes and plate presentations as he went. He created a new cocktail menu. He also added his grandmother’s ethereal cheesecake to the menu and tinkered with the presentation of the family Tiramisu recipe.

On a warm Saturday night, the sidewalk cafe, dramatically lit by flickering imported Italian lava heat torchiere lamps, was full to capacity. Inside, the impressive back-lit bar bustled. In the main dining room, two long tables of 12 ordered up pasta, Chianti, Peroni and more.

Even with reservations, our party of four was seated in a rather snug space along the back wall not far from the kitchen. Our server, a friendly woman, suggested we consider the popular Italian rice balls for a starter. Unfortunately, it was an inauspicious beginning. The meat-stuffed rice balls were breaded and fried but the centers remained pasty.

Since most of the appetizers listed are breaded and fried, we decided to split a simple margherita pizza. The thoroughly American pie that arrived was unlike any margherita I have ever tasted. Encased in a thick blanket of mozzarella (the processed variety instead of fresh), the crust was soggy rather than crisp, the out-of-season tomatoes wan. I’m not sure I’d even try to deal in pizzas with Spin! a couple of doors away.

On a much less busy Tuesday night, Accurso was working the room and stopped by our table to recommend two of his favorite appetizers, which, coincidentally, I already had my eye on. The Prince Edward Island mussels were bathed in a fragrant white wine, lemon and basil broth, and the Accurso bruschetta — several slices of thick, soft French bread — was lightly toasted then swiped with mascarpone and topped with whisper-thin curls of prosciutto and a spoonful of sweet strawberry jam.

So we were now off to a much better start.

The biggest problem with the menu? It’s hard to hone in on the best of the bunch when there are more than 70 items. And the task becomes even more difficult when you figure in the nightly specials.

One Saturday night the entree special was a $20 rockfish. The meaty white fish was sauteed golden and still flaky inside, but the beauty of the dish was somewhat marred by the “black rice” pilaf. “The rice tastes like Uncle Ben’s from the box,” my dining companion remarked. I had to agree, and I had a similar complaint with the cheese ravioli, a regular menu item, which resembled the same refrigerator variety I can buy at any local supermarket.

Much better was the restaurant’s best-seller, the pasta diavolo. The creamy tomato-based sauce has a lovely kick to it, but I think I would have preferred it on a toothy penne, as the dish is typically served, instead of over linguine, which the server insisted was her favorite. To each her own pasta shape, but I found the sauce overwhelmed the more delicate strands.

The most impressive entrees included the Italian sausage (Scimeca’s), stacked like Lincoln logs, with a side of oven-browned new potatoes, red and green peppers strips and onions, with a side of tangy red sauce. The chicken amogio (only $16), marinated in an olive oil and lemon juice dressing and charbroiled, was also light and satisfying. The dish was served with a side of sauteed zucchini and summer squash.

And if there is one item you should not miss, it’s Mimi’s Favorite Cheesecake. Accurso’s maternal grandmother, Angel Barelli, taught the kitchen staff the secrets to making her signature dessert. The light, fluffy cheesecake has more in common with mousse than the typical dense, New York-style cheesecakes served at most Kansas City restaurants. The recipe recently took first-place at a local dessert competition, and it’s easy to see why.

The Tiramisu is also a family recipe and quite good. Accurso spent the first few months at the restaurant revamping the look of the dessert. Formerly served from a large baking pan, there were bothersome and less-than attractive corners. Accurso converted the recipe to a springform pan for a more attractive slice that features lady fingers soaked in brandy and espresso, which are then layered with a sweet mascarpone custard and topped with almonds and chocolate shavings.

Accurso’s Italian Restaurant

4980 Main St.

816-753-0810

Accursos.com

Facebook (accursositalianrestaurant); Twitter @accursositalian

Star ratings

Food: ★★ The menu is trying to please old and new clientele so there are, naturally, some hits and some misses.

Service: ★★½ Very personable but sometimes scattered.

Atmosphere: ★★½ An inviting space, both inside and out.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.

Entree average (including nightly specials): $$

Vegetarian options: Bruschetta, breaded eggplant, breaded mushrooms, toasted ravioli, Greek salad, Caprese salad, Caprese sandwich, build-your-own-pizza, several pastas and eggplant parmesan.

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Parking: A free lot behind the restaurant and also a metered lot at night; be sure to have ticket validated at the restaurant.

Kids: Owner has young children. Kid’s menu available, as well as coloring books and crayons.

Noise level: Depends on day of the week and where you sit. Lively on the weekends. Live music is scheduled several nights a week.

Reservations: OpenTable.com or phone.

Star code: ★ Fair, ★★ Good, ★★★ Excellent, ★★★★ Extraordinary

Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.

Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewer’s. The Star pays for review meals.

Recommended

Italian sausage and peppers | $15

Chicken amogio | $16

Accurso’s pasta diavolo | $15

Mimi’s cheesecake | $7

Tiramisu | $7

What to drink

The deli-version of Accurso’s didn’t have a drink menu, but when you install a showy bar it’s time to develop some nicely crafted cocktails.

“You had to be a professional drinker before,” says Anthony Accurso, owner of Accuro’s Italian Restaurant. “You had to know what to order, so it was hard to make a sale without anything staring you in the face,” he says.

The new cocktail menu has 13 specialty and classic cocktails, including the best-seller, the Mad Man, a twist on the Old Fashioned with the addition of orange bitters and sweet vermouth. There are also 10 martinis for $10 each, including the visual stunner Envy, a combination of melon liqueur, vodka, peach liqueur, pear liqueur and fresh lime.

The 80-bottle wine list has also been revamped; 18 wines are available by the glass. On one Saturday night we were presented with the “Blow Out Wine List” offering nine more options, mostly Italian varietals. I settled on the Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Valpolicella Ripasso 2009, known as Italy’s version of a French beaujolais, for $25, marked down from $38. But when the server presented us with the wine, we noticed the vintage was 2007. She took the bottle back, checked with the bartender and was a bit panic stricken on her return. The bottle she nearly opened for us was priced at $150.

After the snafu, another waiter was dispatched to our table. On my return visit, he impressed me by remembering another wine I had previously ordered.

To reach Jill Wendholt Silva, The Star’s food editor and restaurant critic, call 816-234-4347, send email to jsilva@kcstar.com or follow her on Facebook.

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