The original Lelli’s restaurant on Woodward Avenue was unique. It had morphed into the place everyone remembers. There were all sorts of little rooms and coves and sometimes felt like a maze. I never asked, but presumed that the restaurant grew by acquiring the buildings adjacent to it, as that is how it felt as you walked around. It was also legendary as one of the only restaurants that I am aware of, where you could have your car washed while you were dining there.
One always started with an antipasto plate, salad Lelli, minestrone Lelli, spaghetti Bolognese, the entrée of your choice and then dessert and coffee. I have to say that I do not care for minestrone soup, but I always enjoyed the minestrone at Lelli’s. The steaks, veal, seafood and chicken all had a Lelli treatment, or you could order classic interpretations as well. When you left Lelli’s you knew that you had a meal. It was a sad day when Lelli’s left Woodward Avenue.
The first Barolo wine that I ever enjoyed was from Lelli’s. It Was a Bersano 1966. Barolo wine comes from the Piedmont region and is made from the Nebbiolo grape. The Nebbiolo grape is found in three wines from the Piedmont. Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara, but the grape varietal is usually not listed on the label. If you see Nebbiolo on the label, you are almost guaranteed that the wine is not from these three villages. Barolo wine production is probably a third of the size of the Chianti Classico quantities. The Italian government requires at least two years of maturation in the barrels before bottling, and it is not uncommon for even longer aging by the better houses. I wish I could say that I have had plenty of Barolo wines, but that is not the case, as it is often hard to find, but worth it, when you can.
The grandson of the Lelli family has opened up a new restaurant using the recipes of the original restaurant. We have also been there a couple of times, but as the character named Moustache in Irma La Douce says “that is another story.”