This has been a bad month for Mille Lire, Oak Lawn’s criminally underrated Italian restaurant. On June 30, co-owner Brian Ellard, wife Ornella and her two teenage children were killed in an airplane crash in Addison. The restaurant kept its doors open after the tragedy and Ellard’s co-owner and brother-in-law, Giuliano Matarese, continued to lead the kitchen.
But at 7 p.m. on a recent Friday, the expansive, well-lit, gorgeous dining room — which Ornella Ellard designed — sat nearly half-empty. Where is everybody, and why don’t they know how good this restaurant’s summer pastas are?
Just look at the photo at the top of this story. Mille Lire has a bowl of spaghetti with a spicy Calabrian chile and cherry tomato sauce that’s garnished with half a freaking lobster ($36). And here’s the thing: It’s not even my favorite pasta there!
That lobster looks great on Instagram, I confess. But the real highlights at Mille Lire this summer are subtler, like thick housemade strips of fresh fettuccine "al limone" ($28). The noodles are tossed with big, tender flakes of crabmeat that taste as if they’ve spent some very happy time with a stick of butter, plus crisp asparagus cut diagonally and cooked until it's just barely crossed the line into tenderness. Then the dish is finished with a big squeeze of lemon, a showering of breadcrumbs for crunch, some parsley and just enough red pepper flakes to look good.
It tastes exactly the way that summer feels. The bowl is both light — fresh pasta and veggies! — and indulgent — lots of crab! It’s refreshing. It’s also big enough for two people to share, although they might regret giving half the bowl away.
Another summery dish that ought to be drawing more people in from the steam bath that is Cedar Springs Road is, surprisingly, a soup. But it’s a sweet corn soup, creamy and thick and packing huge amounts of corn flavor ($16). Those crumbled-up bits of crisp, browned bacon don’t hurt. And neither does the crabmeat.
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OK, maybe I’m just in a crabby mood this summer. There could be a lot of reasons for that.
Summer is a tough time in the restaurant industry. A lot of kitchens are doing some of their best work, inspired by the gorgeous corn, tomatoes, wild salmon and other top-notch ingredients that warm weather brings. But the crowds tend to shy away, afraid to spend even a second in the face-melting heat on their way to an eatery. And, of course, lots of folks turn to their backyard grill.
But this is an especially difficult summer for Mille Lire. The sudden accidental deaths of its co-owner and its interior decorator are a reminder of the precariousness of all that we take for granted. Go show some support for a local family-run business, Dallas. They need our love right now. The fact that they serve really great fresh pasta is the cherry on top. No, wait. It’s the lobster on top.
Mille Lire, 3102 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 116