By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Hidden in Greystone Center just south of The Village Lee Branch is Amore. When you step behind the curtained glass wall of the store front, it’s easy to forget what lies on the other side of the wall. The restaurant’s low lighting and intimate setting invite you in, and the oil paintings and wine bottles throughout the space make you feel like you have left Highway 280 for Italy.
“We want people to relax and enjoy food, wine and company, more like people do in Italy or France than typical American dining,” owner and chef Lorenzo Billiteri said. “We want people to have a total dining experience and not be rushed.”
With twelve tables and a staff of four most nights, the dining experience is intimate. Justin Lenard takes your order, Frank Johnson cooks your food, and Billiteri, who opened La Dolce Vita in Hoover before selling it and opening Amore five years ago, does the rest. It’s fine dining, but Billiteri emphasizes that you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
Entrees run from $14.95 to $26.95, and all of them include not just buttery homemade garlic bread but a starter of bruschetta and a house salad as well. If a dish doesn’t include pasta, pasta comes on the side.
“You are going to be stuffed,” Billiteri said.
Between growing up with Italian-born parents who owned restaurants and spending a year in Italy in his 20s, Billiteri developed a palette for Italian food and wine that he brings to the restaurant. His dishes are his own take on the traditional family recipes. Whatever he makes, he makes with passion, incorporating fresh garlic and herbs.
“The dining room is a stage, and the kitchen is an art studio,” he said.
You’ll find popular Italian dishes such as Baked Ziti and their stand-out meatballs, which are made with beef, veal and pork and served with marinara sauce and a side of ricotta cheese.
“The marinara sauce is simple,” he said, “but it’s never the same.”
The Veal Marsala is served with mushrooms in a marsala wine reduction, and the Veal Saltimbocca is sautéed with mushrooms, topped with prosciutto and mozzarella.
The Chicken Franchese is sautéed in a white wine lemon butter sauce with capers, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and served with a side of porcini risotto.
The restaurant will have heartier specials like rack of lamb and veal chops for fall and winter months.
Amore’s menu also includes daily Gulf seafood specials and other items that deviate from traditional Italian fare. The Maryland-style crab cakes are served with a peach and mango cream and can be ordered either as an appetizer or entrée. Grouper is sautéed in a white wine scampi sauce topped with jumbo lump crab meat stuffing and a gorgonzola-stuffed shrimp wrapped in applewood smoked bacon.
Amore also offers a wine list to complement the meal, but Billiteri doesn’t suggest traditional pairings of wine and food. “The psychology has changed,” he said. “You don’t pair wine with food. You match wine with what you like.”
Reservations are recommended at Amore, but Billiteri welcomes people to call for a table at any time. “Always call,” he said. “We can generally get people in at the last minute.”
Amore Ristorante Italiano
5510 Highway 280 South, Suite 116
Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.