A small Italian restaurant in Delray Beach that exudes big charm

Bottles of wine line the dining room walls

Dining al fresco

Pineapple Grove Italian eatery Il Contadino stands apart from the crowd with its small space, tight menu and often delicious food 

Tucked away in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove, two blocks from the hustle and bustle of Atlantic Avenue,

is a tiny restaurant that exudes big charm.

It’s the creation of chef-owner Mike Menna, who was in a 2010 episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” TV show. Il Contadino’s small size—it sits about 50, inside and out combined—evokes a cafe in Europe or New York’s Greenwich Village. It’s a comfortable alternative to the sprawling dining rooms of competitors in Downtown.

The intimate space has a somewhat cluttered, albeit charming, look. Bottles of wine line two of the walls and outsized, vibrant works of art another. There’s a chandelier, a terrazzo floor and sheer gold drapes on the windows. A bright red awning partially covers mosaic tables on the sidewalk.

Il Contadino—the name means “the farmer” in Italian— calls itself a farm-to-table restaurant. The short menu is filled with familiar Italian and Italian-American fare.

We booked online for a recent Friday evening. On arrival, the dining room was largely empty, and were seated at a corner table by the window, one but that would have necessitated one of us eating sideways. We asked to be moved and were graciously reseated in the center of the dining room by our bearded, aproned server, Alessandro, who was working hard to prevent a foursome with show tickets from leaving before the food they ordered had been served. They got their food soon after.

A plate of house-baked focaccia arrived at our table. The bread was a tad dry. And as we perused the menu, Alessandro informed of us the specials that day. I was sold on the Fettuccine Carbonara with seafood and lobster. Alas, the kitchen had run out of the thin noodles and chef Mike was subbing penne in the dish. Not a huge problem.

Though Menna offers a thousand bottles of wine, I settled for a glass of Banfi Centine Bianco, a pleasing, fruity Tuscan blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio from a well-known producer ($10, or the price of a bottle at retail).

Artichoke appetizer 

Chicken Francaise

My artichoke appetizer, which I thought was Carciofi alla Giudía ($15), or Roman Jewish-style fried artichoke, proved to be artichoke française style, lightly breaded, sautéed and in a lemony wine sauce, though plated somewhat sloppily. Though surprising, the choke leaves were tender and it was none-the-less delicious.

We had to wait a bit for our entrees. Not a surprise as Il Contadino is just a two-man operation, Alessandro taking orders and chef Mike working the stoves, running out orders and cleaning the tables.

Seafood carbonara with penne


My wife’s entree,chicken française ($24), served with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables, was satisfactory but unexciting. My seafood carbonara with penne, on the other hand, was decadent with chunks of lobster and shrimp in a creamy white sauce and so filling that I could not finish. I almost choked, though, when I saw the price on my check, $39.

We passed on the house specialty dessert, key line pie, for a shared cannoli ($10). Perhaps a mistake in retrospect as the creamy filling barely made it into the interior of the dry cookie shell.

Menna, who once owned Ponte Vecchio in Fort Lauderdale, said in reports published soon after Il Contadino’s 2015 opening that he implemented Ramsay’s suggestions from his 2010 TV appearance in developing his Delray eatery. It’s clear that while his now-four-year-old venture has lots of ambiance and food that is often delicious, service and kitchen gaffs suggest there are still lessons to be learned. Despite the occasional stumbles, a patient diner will ultimately leave sated.

Il Contadino

165 NE 2nd Avenue

561- 330-0004 

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