Molinari’s menu is returning to the classics

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Classics like the light and lemony chicken piccata and the house specialty pasta puttanesca are back. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Mary Malik

Molinari’s restaurant in Mentor is going back to its roots. On Tuesday, April 2, Molinari’s debuted a new menu that happens to include some old favorites.

“We experimented with different dishes over the past several months and found that customers were missing our classic Italian fare,” says owner, Randal Johnson. “Sometimes it’s fun to try something new, but we found that our customers were missing their favorites. We listened and responded with a new, very fresh, very Italian, and very familiar version of the old menu.”

You’ll find classics like the light and lemony chicken piccata, the house specialty pasta puttanesca and back by popular demand, the four seasons.

“The four seasons is your choice of chicken or veal with prosciutto, roasted red peppers, artichokes and mushrooms in a lemon vodka cream sauce,” says Randal. “It’s a dish that was sorely missed by our customers and one of the many familiar items you’ll find on the new menu.”

What Randal means by “familiar” is that since it opened almost 27 years ago, Molinari’s has always been about one thing: Serving simple, delicious food made with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients.

After training at the Culinary Institute of America and working for years as a corporate chef and in restaurants and hotels, Randal needed a break from the 16-hour days but wanted to stay in the food business. He started Molinari’s as a food and wine store in 1991 and also gave cooking classes. That’s where the restaurant idea was born.

“Some of my cooking students suggested I open a restaurant right in the middle of the new store,” says Randal. “One was an architect and another a contractor. We decided to drop a small restaurant into the existing space and in July of 1992 we opened the 26-seat restaurant. Today we can seat 150 and we’ve recently freshened our decor to go along with our new menu.”

Even now you can see the pride Randal takes in each hand-prepared meal at Molinari’s. The menu also includes stone oven, thin crust pizzas, and a variety of steaks, chops and burgers without straying too far from its Italian roots.

“Italian food is all about the quality of the ingredients,” says Randal. “They must be fresh. We use local sources for as many ingredients as possible. The closer you are to your food source, the better the food will be. We use West Orchards in Perry for our fruits and vegetables and center all of our specials around what’s in season.”

And speaking of those specials, Molinari’s has at least six of them daily, three appetizers and three entrees, that utilize the freshest fruits and vegetables available that day.

“Fruits like peaches and apples are available locally for a short time and are so delicious that the chef here loves to create special dishes featuring them,” says Randal.

And all of Molinari’s dishes are even better when paired with the right wine from the wine shop right here in the restaurant. Molinari’s was the first restaurant in Ohio to offer a wine program where patrons are charged retail prices for bottles of wine for takeout or to drink in house with a nominal additional $5 corking charge.

“This is a program we are proud to offer our customers,” says Randal. “We carry a selection of over 300 wines at all different price points, but you will never pay more than state minimum retail. That’s 50 to 60 percent less per bottle than standard restaurant pricing.”

Molinari’s also hosts monthly wine tastings featuring wines from all over the world. Tastings take place in Molinari’s private dining room and include six wines and four snacks, for $35 per person. The tastings are presented by representatives from the winery itself, or the distributor who guides you through each of the wines.

“In April we are tasting the wines of Sardinia, which have just recently become available in Ohio,” says Randal. “Sardinians have one of the longest lifespans in the world and they attribute that to the wine. We thought we needed to look into that.”

The private dining room at Molinari’s seats up to 54 guests and is the perfect spot for small celebrations and corporate events, where great food, wine and ambiance are a priority.

“Contact us for your breakfast, lunch or dinner events,” says Randal. “We’re happy to help you plan something special.”

Randal suggests that going directly to the website and signing up for the newsletter is the best way to stay on top of all of the happenings at Molinari’s.

“You can register for wine tastings, check out the specials and even make reservations on the website,” says Randal.

Molinari’s is located at 8900 Mentor Avenue, Mentor. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 440-974-2750,, or check the Facebook page.