From the outside, Letizia’s Fiore in Logan Square screams everything but Fine Italian Dining with its tacky Christmas lights and flashing “COFFEE” sign. If — despite this — you decide to drop in anyway for a quick drink and snack at the front of house cafe, your worst fears seem confirmed with average coffee and a typically empty front cafe.
Who could blame us for striking it from our memory?
The more obnoxious lettering has been taken down since this photo was snapped, but Christmas lights have gone up. (source)
Flash forward a few months. A coworker brought Letizia’s up during conversation and revealed what is absolutely not apparent from the outside: Letizia’s Fiore does a fine Italian sit-down meal. We remained skeptical, but the endorsement did prompt us to find a free night this past month and we popped inside.
As disappointing as the front of the house seemed on previous visits, the back did have a very different feel. The small space had walls lined with neat rows of terracotta flower pots that made for a homey, welcoming feel and most of the tables were full with a healthy, low volume buzz.
Letizia’s biggest strength lies in its nearly 100% Italian bar. The placemat doubles as a map of Italy with regions and wine selections highlighted, and cocktails come heavy on the vermouth and amaro. Great pairings are even suggested for every dish — a red, a white and a beer — and they come in economic tasting sizes.
In fact, all the wine pricing is hard to beat. They advertise forty bottles under $40 — with everything $20 on Wednesdays — and the pours by the glass never go above $9.50. We particularly found heaven in a 2010 Valle dell’Acate Frappato di Vittoria — a light, fruity white grown in volcanic soil — and a 2010 Colterenzio Moscato Giallo — a curious pour with the classic sugar bomb Moscato nose, but a Reisling-like drier, crisp taste that could never be confused as dessert. The Fellow’s dying to return soon to try the amaro flight.
But the warm feeling of getting a good deal tapered off when we turned to the food. Mostly we were pleased with the quality and taste, but the prices place expectations high enough to ultimately fall short.
The carrot gnocchi. (source)
We started with an order of calamari which were lightly battered and came with a lovely dipping marinara, but a few rubbery pieces led us to wonder if we were getting fresh or frozen. Likewise, the Lady’s gnocchi di carota — carrot gnocchi — was another “almost, but not quite.” The pasta itself was actually potato-free and proudly showed its bright orange color, yet was cooked so well that there was no thick, overpowering carrot edge. It was a clever trick that yielded something very tasty, even if not traditional. Unfortunately, the dish came in a sauce that was too rich and which, in our case, arrived cold and already congealing.
We did have two dishes, though, that hit that Italian food benchmark of simple, yet deliciously elegant. The Fellow’s choice of farfalle alto adige sported handmade bowties topped with smoked speck prosciutto and a butter Parmesan sauce, and the arancini — Sicilian risotto balls filled with a very light sausage — maintained a perfectly dainty bite despite being mostly heavy meat and rice.
The farfalle. (source)
So… is this place a lost gem hidden off the beaten path? Not quite.
Letizia’s got a few great strengths, but spotty service — Did we mention it was nearly 30 minutes from being seating to getting our first drink? — and overreaching prices temper our excitement. Come for the affordable and unusual wine, but be prepared to open that wallet wider if you stay for a meal. Next time we go, we’ll give the downstairs speakeasy a shot and stick to wine and cheese.