Veal Milanese topped with baby arugula//All photos by Steve Legato.
It’s the classic tale of a humble dream turning into something bigger. “To think this all started because I wanted to open a small pizza joint,” says Joe Milito, whose name is now emblazoned on the big sign in front of his new Downingtown eatery, which is located in the historic Brandy-wine Paper Mill.
The classy creekside site has seen its share of turnover, first with Firecreek, then with Stella Rossa and Barra Rossa. Milito, 54, opted to take his shot this past December—and he’s optimistic.
Walking the floor and greeting guests, Milito gazes around his 300-seat restaurant, pizzeria and wine bar, with its sweeping outdoor deck overlooking the picturesque Brandywine Creek. “This is something I’ve also envisioned—the opportunity to serve people and find a way to their hearts through food,” he says.
From Left: A pepperoni-and-sausage pizza fresh from the oven; Milito’s executive chef Anthony DiPascale.
A former toxicology and genetic-testing expert, Milito hasn’t a lick of prior restaurant experience, which did raise a few red flags. But brunch and dinner at Milito’s quelled my initial apprehensions.
Milito’s top draw is its red sauce. Sweet, smoky and tangy, it was elemental to the perfectly baked, braised meatballs and the involtini-style eggplant Parmesan, with its rich, oozing mozzarella. The sauce is also the thing on chef Anthony DiPascale’s pizzas—made with his thinly pressed bleached-bread dough, which imparts a chewiness unlike anything else in the region. They’re light, cheesy and pliant, with no burns, blisters or bubbles. DiPascale’s pies alone are worth a visit to Milito’s.
From left: Executive chef Anthony DiPascale works the wood-burning pizza oven; Milito’s Jennifer Wimmer preps for dinner in the expansive dining area.
The consistency continued with my lump-crabmeat-crowned salmon ripieno and a deeply flavorful brunchtime option of beef-rib hash topped with poached eggs and covered in hollandaise sauce. The pecan ball—a caramely, nutty nod to Milito’s native Pittsburgh—was an apt finisher to a satisfying dinner.
Milito’s is all about the family dynamic, and its young employees seem eager to be a part of it. Wife Leslie runs the special-events department, and son Michael trains a staff that’s friendly, if a bit raw. Milito acknowledges that there will be some initial lapses in service, especially during prime-time weekend hours.
On our visit, the kitchen had a few hiccups, too. The chicken piccata lacked flavor, and a cured-meat board with brined and roasted vegetables could’ve used a complementing sharp provolone. For the most part, though, DiPascale’s output hit the mark.
The decadent Pecan Ball, with a vanilla ice cream center, hot fudge, caramel sauce and whipped cream.
THE SKINNY: Excellent red gravy, stellar pizzas and meatballs, and a warm family dynamic are a few of the reasons Milito’s has seen speedy success. A relaxing bar and a scenic seasonal deck won’t hurt business, either.
Milito’s 20 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown, (610) 269-6000.
Cost: Appetizers $5, entrées $27.
Attire: Smart casual.
Atmosphere: A historic creekside mill setting.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday: brunch and lunch 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner 4-10:30 p.m.
Extras: With the Milito’s Family Recipe Challenge, winners have their recipes featured on the menu.