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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Evening at Ermilio's in Eureka Springs.

Any day, and I mean any day during the summertime in Eureka Springs, there's a line outside Ermilio's Italian Home Cooking. It starts before the restaurant opens at five and rarely goes completely away before closing time at nine. And that's every single summer day.

Because of this, I've never taken Grav here... and it's a shame. The boy will not wait for food.

So on a rare solo trip to Eureka Springs, I decided to stop in and have a late evening bite. It was just after eight when I arrived. I poked my head in the door and had my name added to the list and had my seat on the porch. The young man who took down my name mentioned it may be a 30 minute wait. For this rare, cool summer evening (it was around 80 degrees, surprisingly enough!) that was just fine.

Ermilio's is Paul Wilson's restaurant. His folks were Italian immigrants, and the recipes belong to his mother and grandmother. When he was six, his family moved from Manhattan to Eureka Springs. His father was part of the team that built Beaver Dam. After the construction was over, the family decided to stay in Arkansas. Paul would spend most of the year here, but go back to New York during the summers to stay with relatives. As an adult, he worked for catering for a large hotel chain. One day, he decided he wanted to go back to Eureka Springs and start a restaurant with his family. And he did. And it worked out well.

The evening was perfect, save the lone mosquito that sporadically decided to buzz in my ear. The lounge upstairs was closed -- up there, you can play cards or checkers or Battleship and have a drink or two while you wait. But it was close to closing time, and there were few people left on the porch -- a party of two, a party of three, and me. It was actually only about 20 minutes before the young man who had taken my name ducked his head out and motioned me in.

The decor of Ermilio's is all black and white. With the tan curtains pulled back and every table lit with an oil lamp or candle, the room takes on a champagne hue. Dining at Ermilio's takes place in two big rooms - a long one that stretches across the left side of the house from the entrance, and a smaller one past the front desk. There were families seated together, but most tables were packed with couples. There's something about Italian food and romance.

My waitress, Jules, brought me bread, butter and garlic and took my order (I knew what I wanted before I arrived). The roasted garlic is for smearing on the bread, and I wonder just how much garlic they roast each year, since I was given a good half a cup of cloves. The bread is rustic
wheat with a real texture to it, not the bleached white flour version that's so common at commercial Italian joints these days. You spread the clove on the bread, with or without the butter. Or, if you're weird like me, you just eat the cloves. Yeah, because that's how I roll.

While the salads that go with dinner are rather plain, the dressings are not. Ermilio's manages to bring to the table a blue cheese dressing that's very thick and still creamy, and I could eat it on crackers or off my fingers if I have to, it's
rather good.

I was seated at one of the thin two-tops that line the center of the room. There are so many people who want to get in, and seating is rather tight. To my left were a young couple that may have been there on a honeymoon or a tryst, it's not my business to know. They were quite young. To my right were a couple my age discussing the absurdity of politics. A family of six was seated a few tables away, and when one mentioned the approaching start of school, two of the children at the table moaned loudly.

My dinner quickly arrived. I realize my combination was not the typical choice, but I didn't care. I love the counterbalance of Ermilio's spicy all-beef meatballs against the creamy yet strong flavor of Uncle Sal E.'s spinach ricotta ravioli. The ravioli are two inch circular
pockets of pliant, soft pasta fresh made each day, and they are remarkably filling. The red sauce is chunky and redolent of basil and a touch of oregano, a strong flavor all in its own. Dinner like this was meant to be bold.

Now, I could have chosen appetizers instead, and when I do that I usually go for the gorgonzola apple rounds, which are phenomenal. Or I could have gone upscale and had the chicken marsala. But sometimes what you really want is just a good bowl of pasta for dinner.

Jules came and checked on me and I asked about desserts. She mentioned

tiramisu and a host of other items, including cannoli, Italian cream cake, chocolate cake and cheesecake, but she really had me at tiramisu. There's a woman named Jane who's been making that tiramisu for more than 20 years. It comes in a bowl instead of a square slice, and the bottom of it has a bit of a tang from
the strong espresso and ladyfingers, but the whole thing is creamy and rich and just to die for.

It was after nine, so I didn't dally once my meal was done. The family of six had departed, as had the political couple on one side of me. The low-lit restaurant was still filled with couples dithering over dessert. It was quiet, and there was soft romantic contemporary music piped in overhead. It seemed very intimate... and it kinda felt like my cue to leave these folks in their reverie!

Ermilio's Italian Home Cooking is usually open seven days a week, 5-9 p.m. During the winter the eatery tends to shed a few days from its schedule, and it's usually closed in January so the family can take their own vacations. Ermilio's take credit cards (but not American Express) but doesn't take reservations, so be prepared for that wait. The restaurant is also available for receptions and such.

Ermilio's Italian Home Cooking
26 White Street
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
(479) 253-8806

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1 comment:

Be kind.