Photos by Justin Fox Burks
A memorable meal, much like a good race horse, needs a strong start and a better finish. After lunch at Strano Sicilian Kitchen & Bar, the newcomer to the northeast corner of Cooper and Young, I couldn’t help but make the comparison. Before we even ordered, our server whisked out focaccia with rosemary, capers, and Parmesan, along with specialty olive oils for dipping.
Next we shared creamy roasted carrot soup the color of clementines, and finally, our entrees: an eight-slice pizza with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes on a slightly soft but not-too-thick crust and a warm and satisfying prosciutto panini plated with shoestring, skin-on fries.
Open since early June, Strano is sophisticated but comfortable with walls painted a cool fern green and old-school art framed in gilded gold. Helmed by Josh Steiner, an exuberant chef/owner with family ties to Italy and Morocco, the restaurant is a hybrid of sorts. The menu includes household favorites from his grandmothers’ recipe boxes along with the flashy modern cooking favored by today’s young chefs. Plus, Steiner is a stickler for presentation. His fennel salad, for instance, is a colorful garden on a plate. Hedges of orange sections and fennel slices, side-by-side beds of chopped dates and golden raisins, a path of beet-stained shallots and toasted pine nuts, and a sloped lawn of mixed greens look (almost) too pretty to eat.
This marriage of old and new plus an ambitious lunch and dinner menu that includes daily soup, pizza, and pasta specials, all house-made, may explain why Strano had a bit of an uneven start. But don’t let a disappointment keep you from coming back. Strano has heart, talent in the kitchen, and winsome finishes like the restaurant’s impeccable carrot cake that earned a place on my top-10 list of favorite foods.
Strano Sicilian Kitchen & Bar, 948 S. Cooper St. (901-275-8986) $-$$$