- 5801 Hickman Road, Des Moines, IA, 50310
- Overall User Rating:
- (10 ratings)
- Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
January’s columns have focused on value, and I’m closing out this month with Marino’s, one of the city’s best values for warming, mostly red-sauced Italian specialties.
Ambience: Since I last reviewed the spot, the restaurant’s two snug rooms have been transformed into one large dining room. The new spaciousness registers as a bit cool, but the cheerful red-and-white color scheme, sparked by vinyl tablecloths with a cute faux-tapestry design, do add charm. And when the food arrives, there’s warmth in abundance.
Menu: Find pizza, pasta, calzones and sandwiches in the Southern Italian immigrant vein. There’s a lot of Marinara here; just a handful of entrées — including fettuccine Alfredo, pasta with clam sauce and chicken Marsala — veer off that path. Most entrées cost $10.95 to $13.95.
Best bites: Oh, what a marinara! It’s a bright and vivid, fresh-tasting tomato-based sauce with a clear homespun appeal. We especially appreciated it in the lasagna, a somewhat free-form rendition (versus one with distinct, sharp layers) that brought creamy ricotta, fennel-infused sausage and a sheen of mozzarella for a classic Italian-American take.
Bringing about three times more food than anyone should eat in one sitting, the chicken roll-ups arrived with two huge boneless breasts rolled around spinach and topped with a slather of the remarkable sauce and a sheen of cheese, all served over a bed of pasta.
Also of note: Across these two visits, we skipped the pizzas and sandwiches (we know they’re good, thanks to the thick and hearty freshly made bread dough). In the interest of research, we took a turn off the red-sauce path. The linguine with a good garlicky clam sauce bested the chicken Marsala, which brought satisfying wine-infused flavors, but a sauce that was more soupy than sauce-like. In the final analysis, I’ll likely stick with red-sauced dishes here.
Skip: Onion rings are from the thick school — thick batter, thick-cut onions — and brought none of the sweet-onion appeal of the best. The mostly iceberg lettuce salads are perfunctory — choose the appetite-rousing Italian wedding soup instead.
Stay for dessert? The light and frothy tiramisu ranks among the best — nab a slice if they’re serving (sometimes they run out).
Final thought: Food takes time here — the menu warns that you should allow at least 30 minutes for a meal, as all is prepared fresh. Bring a bottle of wine (there’s no corkage fee), sit back and hang with some friends for a cheap night out.