Italian Garden Restaurant is one of those gems that get tucked away in the most unexpected places.
Drive west on U.S. 90 in the Bay and, just before you get to Hancock Medical Center, Italian Garden is on your left, at 828 U.S. 90, Suites I and J. A big Italian flag on a sign by the road is a handy landmark. It’s not in a fancy building or parking lot, but it’s truly what’s inside that counts.
Smaller booths seat four, larger booths seat six, and there are tables for four to five guests. It was midafternoon on a Saturday when I went, so I chose to lounge luxuriously in a four-seater booth.
The menu is straightforward: Appetizers, salads, baked pastas, pizza, chicken and veal, seafood, house specialties and lunch specials, plus a kids’ meal selection. A girls’ night out the previous evening had left me doubtful of having an appetite, but as I studied the menu, I could feel it rallying.
Keep in mind that pastas, sauces, pizzas, breads and desserts at Italian Garden are all made in-house. That can make your decision harder. I chose Spinach Ravioli ($8.95), described as “jumbo ravioli stuffed with spinach topped with mozzarella cheese.” My excellent server, Lemegan, cautioned me that “it’s really spinach-y.” I assured her that, for me, there is no such thing as too much spinach. She smiled and said sometimes patrons are surprised by the dish, so she wanted to warn me.
Each dish comes with yummy yeasty knot rolls topped with Parmesan and a suggestion of garlic. There is real butter on the table, but you won’t need it with these rolls. Enjoy.
When my entree arrived, Lemegan noted that the cassoulet dish had come straight out of the broiler, so be careful. The menu’s description was understated. Three huge round and green ravioli plump with spinach and Parm slightly overlapped each other beneath a somewhat chunky and obviously homemade marinara sauce, glistening with olive oil, and generous and stringy mozzarella. I didn’t detect a spinach overload so far as the flavor goes, but then I’m not sensitive to it.
This is food to enjoy. Twirl your fork in the cheese and pull it off with your teeth. Cut into the tender ravioli and smile. The song “That’s Amore!” came to mind.
A couple sitting across the room had struck up a conversation with Giovanni Karelli, who owns Italian Garden with his wife, Mergita Sadiku. The couple had seen a story earlier this year in the Sun Herald about the restaurant opening and wanted to try it out. With Italian heritage and two years spent in Italy, they knew a thing or two about Mediterranean food. They pronounced Italian Garden’s offerings “pretty close to authentic, what we had over in Italy.”
There’s something for probably everyone on the menu, including appetizers, salads, baked pastas, pizza, chicken or veal, seafood and house specialties.
House specialties include the Italian Garden Special, which is chicken and sausage with bell peppers, ham and black olives in a white cream sauce with a tour of marinara served over spaghetti ($13.95), and Chicken Broccoli, which is chicken and broccoli in a white cream sauce over cheese tortellini ($12.95).
Fettuccini Alfredo is $9.95 and with chicken it’s $12.95. Eggplant Parmigiana is $8.95.
Linguini Tuttomare (always fun to say) is $15.95 and includes mussels, shrimp, calamari and baby clams sauteed in white wine and garlic and served over linguini. You can have your linguini with clams with either red sauce or white sauce at $11.95 for either.
Italian Garden offers white pizza (garlic, ricotta and Mozzarella cheese) at $9.95 for a medium or $10.95 for large.
Lunch special versions of menu favorites range from $7.95 to $9.95.
Karelli said the restaurant’s most popular dishes include Veal Marsala ($13.95) and Tour of Italy ($14.95), which puts Fettuccini Alfredo, Chicken Parmigiana and lasagna all on one plate.
There is a children’s menu, ranging from $4.75 to $5.75, which offers spaghetti with meat sauce, meatballs or marinara or, for more adventurous little palates, lasagna, manicotti, cheese ravioli, fettuccini Alfredo or Tortellini Alla Pana (cheese tortellini sauteed in cream sauce with a touch of marinara).
Where: 828 U.S. 90, Suites I and J, Bay St. Louis
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday