Welcome to Strip Mall Surprise, a place to celebrate the history, atmosphere and cuisine of some of the best restaurants in the 614. There are only two requirements: delicious food and a strip mall storefront. For our inaugural edition, we traveled to Scali Ristorante in Reynoldsburg for some of the tastiest, authentic Italian food in Central Ohio.
Owning a restaurant has always been Frank Scali’s dream, and he found the perfect partner for that endeavor in wife Judy. The couple met while working together at an Italian restaurant (the former Baci Ristorante on South High), and it’s safe to say that food is in their blood. Frank’s family hails from Southern Italy and Judy’s from Northern Italy and those influences marry (literally and figuratively) into their relationship and culinary styles.
Opened in 1993, Scali is the kind of restaurant where regulars become friends and friends become family. The Scalis chose to open their restaurant in Reynoldsburg because there were no Italian restaurants on the east side at the time. The Scalis attribute their success to making connections, friends and lasting relationships, like that of longtime regulars Margot and Glee.
Margot and Glee have been meeting at Scali for their regular Wednesday Ladies Night for the last 30 years. Their tradition is arriving at the bar around opening and asking Frank to make them a pizza and choose a bottle of wine. Frank makes them a pizza of his choice (sausage and peppers on this particular Wednesday) and pairs it with a bottle while the ladies make themselves at home and chat with the staff.
Another source of pride for Frank and Judy was recently hosting a rehearsal dinner for a family of longtime regulars. It’s no surprise that many families from the east side choose Scali for regular dinners as well as special occasions.
For seating options, Scali has a cozy dining area, full-service bar and counter that looks directly into the kitchen. The kitchen is clean and open, and the chef and his crew run a tight shift while laughing and joking with the talented and tenured wait staff. The front and back of the house worked together seamlessly and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
Scali also offers a quality array of wine for dining in and retail wines to go. For dinner, we chose a bottle of 2010 Rosso Di Montalcino which had a medium body with hints of spice and fruit. Like most wines on the menu, the price was right and the bottle was unique.
The Shrimp Cognac was exactly what it sounds like. Recommended by our server Andrea, it featured large shrimp sautéed in Cognac and topped with Gorgonzola—rich and creamy with a smoky finish.
Our philosophy going into the evening was to not pick items (food or drink) that we could find at other local Italian restaurants. We knew that Scali served authentic Italian cuisine so that is what we ordered. Megan chose the Vitello Saltimbocca.
Thinly sliced veal topped with prosciutto, cooked in a white wine butter sauce and topped with sage, this dish is every bit as enticing as it sounds. The food came out of the kitchen piping hot, and the textures and flavors complemented each other supremely. While this dish was filling, it was not overbearing.
I ordered the hearty, mouthwatering Brasciole—Frank’s favorite dish to make. For those not familiar, this dish is comparable to a meatloaf but consists of sirloin stuffed with salami and capicola ham, and mozzarella, Romano and provolone cheeses—all baked together in a red sauce. This entrée is a Master’s level class in the union between meat, cheese, sauce, and pasta—and you need to study the syllabus.
At this point in the evening, we were reaching maximum capacity, but Judy talked us into looking at the dessert menu. We weren’t planning on ordering anything, but our meal was impressive enough to warrant taking a peek.
The delicious Cannoli filling consisted of ricotta cheese, chocolate chips, cinnamon and vanilla and was custom made by Judy, who also makes the Tiramisu and Panna Cota. (If this was the Cannoli from The Godfather, I can understand why Clemenza wouldn’t leave it in the car.)
So there you have it, a delectable and authentic Italian dinner served by a locally owned family business that just happens to be in a strip mall. If you find yourself east of route 71 (or in the Eastern Time Zone), make a reservation at Scali Ristorante – you won’t be disappointed.