Al Fresco All Year Long

Speaking of outdoor dining, Romacelli is tops in this town - even in the hottest summer months.

Healthy-ish Italian options and the city's best outdoor dining make Romacelli well worth a visit. By Tommy Thomassie

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Photo by Robin May

Romacelli's Danielle Schexnayder

There are healthy restaurants, and then there are those that seem to be healthy. By virtue of décor, uniforms, menu, a café can give the impression that its menu was sponsored by Dr. Oz when, in reality, it may use shortcuts to make its food tastier than your average healthy food. And by shortcuts, I mean butter.

This is where River Ranch's Romacelli shines. As stated on its website, "Acadiana could really use fresh, casual Italian/Mediterranean cuisine," so the creators of Café Roma in New Orleans decided to bring a spinoff concept to Lafayette. We went on Sunday evening, April 21, that day that should be formally honored by the city as "The Best Day of Weather Ever in Acadiana." Unfortunately, the outdoor dining area was already packed with others who had also obviously recognized that 72 degrees, blue skies and a breeze equates to al fresco.

Speaking of outdoor dining, Romacelli is tops in this town - even in the hottest summer months. It seats about 50 in a breezy outdoor space; the restaurant is perfectly oriented directly toward the east, getting only soft, light morning sun but staying shaded from mid-day on. That means even on warm evenings it's more comfortable than most outdoor dining areas because its surfaces remain cool throughout the day. Stepping inside, the design of the place is casual-modern and immediately lends an air of cleanliness and comfort. That's in large part due to the complete remodeling and expansion of the restaurant about a year ago (a word of advice though, please dim the lights in the new addition at dusk; it would really enhance the ambiance). The menu is simple, centering around a selection of pastas, sandwiches and pizzas. The plating is clean, leaving significant white plate space without a bunch of inedible knickknacks hanging around. All this makes you feel that whatever you order will be somewhat healthier, lighter and fresher than a version you could get somewhere else. And it is.

The Mediterranean hummus is a clear winner at Romacelli with tomato, crumbled feta, roasted garlic and olives covering a mound of creamy cool hummus. Surrounded by grilled flatbread pieces, it was the perfect combo to start the meal.

The pizza here, appropriately raved about in online review sites, is excellent. Utilizing a crust similar to the aforementioned flatbread, the pizza came out topped with fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, onion, sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic, something called "CELLI-peppers" and feta cheese with a homemade garlic sauce. Let's get this straight. I am a meat eater. If I walk through the doors of Dean-O's, I am ordering the T-Rex. This pizza, however, largely made up for its lack of porcine products with sheer flavor. Whole cloves of roasted garlic combined with the homemade garlic butter sauce brought an utterly unkissable smile to my face.

The Mediterranean pasta was angel hair coated in olive oil with shrimp and feta. While not on par with the pizza or the hummus, it was good. I was looking for something a little bit lighter as an entrée, and this kept us on the feta trend that ran through the meal.

The wine list featured a decent selection of reds and whites at appropriate prices, and the wine was served in a nice big glass, poured at the table from a small decanter.
Small wine glasses and small pours are a pet peeve of mine, but Romacelli does it right.

Overall, the moderately priced Romacelli (which also has a location in Sugar Mill Pond) puts fresh, healthy-ish food on the table in a clean, friendly and casual atmosphere.

River Ranch
115 Stonemont Road

Sugar Mill Pond
220 Prescott Blvd.