Romio's Pizza and Pasta 

Life is short, as they say, so start with dessert. Enter stage left: baklava. Though I desperately wanted to start lunch with the rich, flaky pastry, I restrained myself, ate my vegetables and took a piece back to the office. When it came time to pen this here little review, I retrieved my baklava from the office fridge, found a fairly clean fork in my desk and took a giant bite. In the 30 seconds between my first bite and the allergic reaction that ensued (thanks to the coyly disguised almonds), I remember thinking it was really, really good. On second thought, life could potentially be much shorter when starting with dessert.

So let's back up two hours, to the point at which I was seated window-side, raving about the pool of sauce in which the pastichio (aka, Greek lasagna) was served. Or maybe it's prudent to back up to just a few minutes before that, when I was jotting little notes about the impressive remodel the interior of Romio's underwent to erase all signs of its previous fast food inhabitants. From the outside, the white siding and defunct drive-thru poorly represent not only the cozy, transformed interior, but the quality of the food as well, which is thankfully a far cry from an establishment requiring a drive-thru window.

Starting with cheese bread at our hostess' suggestion, as well as an order of dolmades and an Athenian lager, I eavesdropped involuntarily on the table next to us as they said over and over, "This place is so good." Served warm and with a much larger side of tzatziki sauce than we could ever hope to finish, the dolmades were plumply stuffed with beef and rice. Though I'm used to vinegary, meatless versions rolled much tighter, I was pleased with the deviation based solely on the richly herbed flavor.

Romio's menu is overwhelming in terms of choices. The menu has salads, pizzas, pastas and sandwiches in both Italian and Greek cuisine. Despite a desire to sample a bit from both camps, my lunch date and I ordered Romio's Greek lasagna (pastichio) and a Greek gyro. Sadly, few places in town get gyros right, but Romio's fairly earns a spot on that short list. The slightly toasted pita filled with tender as can be lamb, fresh tomatoes, onions and feta, topped with just a touch of tzatziki was exactly right.

When he cut into the long macaroni noodles and fluffy bechamel, my lunch date was only briefly perplexed before declaring he was forever giving up the Olive Garden for Romio's. While the casserole itself was a rich and well done dish, the marinara sauce nearly stole the show all together. Pleasantly pungent up front with heavily herbed finish, the sauce had me quietly admitting that my favorite marinara in Little Italy may have just lost its crown. And because about a dozen other menu items piqued my interest--including the S'mores complete with a campfire--my inaugural visit will be followed with others.

--Rachael Daigle would marry the first Ferrara lobster tail to come her way.

Romio's Pizza and Pasta, 535 N. Milwaukee St., 658-1550. Sun.-Thu.: 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat.: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

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Mike Rosenthal

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