Good Eats at Amici Ristorante: This family-run restaurant in Niles has plenty of old-world charm to go with its delicious Italian specialties
7620 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles
By Trent Modglin
History in short: Amici’s owner, Sarah Zimmerman, has a long history in the restaurant business. Born in Sicily and arriving in the States when she was six, her parents started a pizzeria in 1965 called Villa Doro near Milwaukee Avenue and Bryn Mawr. All six of the family’s children worked there at some point.
“It was really a whole family operation,” Sarah tells us fondly. “We had our own booth where the kids would do our homework. I served as a waitress, counter girl, took phone orders, even delivered pizzas when we were short a driver. … You really had to learn every aspect of it.”
Sarah and her husband opened La Catina in Norwood Park in 1979 and then bought Amici, formerly called The Highway Club and owner of just the second liquor license handed out in Niles, in 1987.
Amici has undergone three significant renovations over the years, including building out the popular patio. It remains very much a family affair, as Sarah’s sister and two sons also work at the restaurant.
Old-world charm: Overheard during our visit: A customer’s initial response upon walking in for the first time was, “How charming is this place?” An accurate description to be sure. While the weather’s still nice, you can enjoy dinner on the patio under the ivy-covered pergola with string lights, which provides a nice escape from the busy Milwaukee Avenue nearby. If you look up, you’ll even notice there’s a grape vine growing through the middle of the ivy.
“The lasagna recipe we use at Amici to this day — and others — we learned from my mom. … We really learned a lot from my parents and growing up in a restaurant.” — Sarah Zimmerman
Inside, the rustic appeal of Amici is evident throughout its three distinctly different rooms: a main dining room, longer skinny bar area with booths, and a second dining room that is a popular destination for private parties and events. Plenty of character abounds between the old black-and-white family photos, paintings on the walls, small lamps, string lights and Sinatra crooning in the background.
Amici means “friends” in Italian, so the staff takes a lot of pride in the idea of warm, genuine hospitality. The other aspect they’re most proud of? A generous menu full of authentic Italian specialties. Our advice? Come hungry. And take time to truly relax and enjoy the old-world experience.
All in the family: “The lasagna recipe we use at Amici to this day — and others — we learned from my mom,” says Sarah. “She made such good homemade ravioli and pastas. We really learned a lot from my parents and growing up in a restaurant.”
Interesting note: Besides being known for its long history and warm ambiance, Amici has quite the reputation for its catering business as well. It’s quite the destination for private events too, able to accommodate groups ranging from 20-80 people in both dining rooms. … Amici, which opens at 3 p.m. for dinner, recently added a gaming room that opens at 11 a.m. daily.
The rigatoni is tossed with Italian sausage medallions, artichoke hearts, peas and sun-dried tomatoes and served with a gorgeously rich tomato cream sauce that deserves to be bottled and sold to stores it’s so good.
What we ate: We skipped lunch, so we weren’t embarrassed to split three dishes between the two of us. First off was the zuppa di pesce, a fresh assortment of jumbo shrimp, tender calamari and Prince Edward Island mussels, all sautéed with chopped garlic, onions and olive oil and served over linguini with a choice or red or white sauce.
Although choosing a favorite dish would be an agonizingly difficult decision, our vote may have gone to the rigatoni paesana. It’s rigatoni pasta tossed with Italian sausage medallions, artichoke hearts, peas and sun-dried tomatoes and served with a gorgeously rich tomato cream sauce that deserves to be bottled and sold to stores it’s so good.
Not to be forgotten is the chicken breast marsala, a boneless chicken breast mixed with fresh mushrooms in a sweet marsala wine sauce and served with rosemary potatoes.
Not surprisingly, Amici offers a nice selection of wines and cocktails to complement any meal.
Next time: The tender, breaded veal is sure to be calling our name, or perhaps the hearty homemade lasagna and one of the creative salmon dishes. And without a doubt, or meal will start off with an appetizer like the shrimp DeJonghe (oven baked shrimp with fresh garlic, butter and seasoned bread crumbs) or the polpette pazze, consisting of homemade sliced meatballs with toasted garlic bread. If those don’t get your mouth watering, you may want to check your pulse.