Sunday, March 22, 2009

Collina's Italian Cafe

So many options for my first restaurant post… why choose Collina’s? Their printed menu and website list about a half dozen critical quotations, all dated over a decade ago. Not a good sign. I admit Collina’s is a questionable choice, but follow me for one minute.

Centrally located in the Heights? Check! (19th Street, does not get more central Heights than that)

BYOB? Yes, oh yes.

Packed? Most definitely.

It would be more than a stretch to call Collina’s a great restaurant. Despite this “glowing” assessment, Collina’s has a special place in my heart. Not for the pastas, which tend to be the smothered in tomato sauce classics so common on “traditional” American/Italian restaurants. Not for the 1.5 crowd, which tend to overrun the place on the weekends. And certainly not for the service, which is criminally overstretched.

They had me with that artichoke.

Stuffed artichoke to be exact. The stuffed artichoke served at Collina’s isn’t haute cuisine, but it is the definition of comfort food for me. For those that have read Sara Roahen’s Gumbo Tales (highest recommendation for those who love the city and cuisine of New Orleans), you already know the effort required to construct this dish. Breadcrumbs, herbs and a ton of olive oil are slammed into the crevices of half an artichoke, which is then broiled and served bubbling.

Obviously the artichokes are prepared beforehand; this is a dish that can’t be made to order. Eating this whacky pinecone is another challenge. The outer leaves are scraped between your front teeth, leaving most of it to waste. The inner portion can be eaten whole: slightly tart and just the perfect texture. Unfortunately, I wish it was consistently as good as I described. Occasionally, the cooking process is rushed and the breadcrumbs taste like the boxed variety.

As for the rest of the dishes, the specials are usually skip-worthy. The pizzas are above average, especially if you stick to the simpler versions on the menu. Avoid the small pizzas as the dough thickness ratio is way off.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different, head to Collina’s and get the artichoke. Artichoke is famous for messing up every wine that gets served, so perhaps jug wine IS the best choice.


502 W. 19th st.

Mon - Thu 11am - 10pm
Fri - Sat 11am - 11pm
Sun 4pm - 9pm


  1. If I ever return, it would only be for the artichoke! We live 3 blocks away and tried several times when we first moved into our house (2 1/2 years ago). I tasted what I think was the worst dish of my life - their chicken marsala. Even after telling the waiter that I thought something was wrong with it, he just shrugged his shoulders. We vowed never to return. I think their pizzas are just average (we like Pink's much better). When I see the crowds at Collinas, it makes me want to start selling food out of my car in the same parking lot - ha!

  2. Jodie,

    I need to return to Pink's again. For those in the know, I wasn't as impressed the first time I went. I'm also pretty sure I consumed a McRib sandwich once that was worse than your chicken marsala dish. But point taken, and I agree!

    Funny sidenote: Peggy started a poll to pick a BYOB place for a group activity. Collina's got ZERO votes. And it's not like we could only pick one.

    Next Italian stop will be Sweet Tempations for a comparison.

  3. excuse my ignorance, but what is 1.5 crowd?

    Just found the website, starting with the beginning. Like what I see so far. Keep it up!

  4. 1.5 refers to the size of the wine bottle; so, those that show up with giant cheap bottles of plonk.

    That's a bit tongue in cheek. Obviously there are a great number of quality magnums out there, just not ones that I've seen at Collina's.