It's hard to find authentic Italian and Greek cuisine that also has an original flair, but Mike's Rigatoni Bistro in Peoria delivers both - and with delicious results. Reminiscent of a cozy Venetian café, the spot serves hearty but unique Mediterranean fare, from flaming Saganaki (lightly battered Greek kefalograviera (salty sheep's milk cheese) baked in butter and lit (literally -- with Orzo liqueur) to an array of fresh pastas and generous Italian sandwiches.
Most everything on the menu is around $10, but the lunch menu, served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, offers tasty choices for the diner on a budget: for $7.99, order panini like the Club Italiano, a pita like the Chicken Portobello, or of course, the generous Rigatoni Carbonara. The price also includes a choice of light pasta salad, Greek salad or shoestring fries, and though a drink isn't included, the portions are liberal and the dishes are made to order.
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We ordered the Marco Polo panini, a plentiful pile of grilled pancetta, turkey breast, asparagus, basil and mozzarella on thick focaccia, with the pasta salad. The pancetta was incredibly fresh, with very little fat; the basil was strong and zesty, and under all that melted mozzarella, the asparagus added a refreshing crunch. The bread was a little greasy, but not soggy, and the pasta salad was packed with lightly oiled artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, capers, feta, cucumbers, green peppers, and pungent pepperoncinis.
What we liked best: Lunch would've been under $10 had we not tried a helping of the eatery's delectable mini cannoli (2 for $1.99). Packed with rich rum-hinted cinnamon ricotta and tiny chocolate shavings, the petite portion was perfect. Next time, we're coming back for their famous tiramisu - a luscious slice of vanilla or chocolate flavored sponge cake soaked with espresso and rum and layered with lady fingers and mascarpone cheese.