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The Paesano Experience: Food, Wine, and Italian Culture

By Kelly Church

Paesano Restaurant and Wine Bar features a seasonal menu inspired by rustic Italy. But, for patrons of this Ann Arbor, MI restaurant, they get a lot more than just a good meal. With three levels of Italian language courses available, weekly Italian wine tastings, a guided culinary tour of Italy and themed wine dinners accompanied by winemakers from Italy, Paesano is a cultural experience.

Owners Michael and Bridget Roddy opened the restaurant in 1984. "We bought the old Bimbo's on the Hill and since my wife was Italian," explains Michael Roddy, "we wanted to open up an authentically Italian restaurant that would serve foods like the foods we found while visiting Italy." The menu features seasonal items, something that pulls from the true Italian method of cooking. It's changed every season, depending on what is available from the local farmers. Roddy says that the restaurant has a strong relationship with the Washtenaw farming community, allowing them to use the freshest available ingredients for their dishes. There are no complaints coming from their customer base.

"It is great for our chefs and staff, and the customers seem to really enjoy seeing the seasonal menu changes," Roddy says. "Many restaurants talk about being involved, but we've really enjoyed the relationship to the farms and the old world Italian foods we do based on what's seasonal and local and best tasting."

Pasta noodles are made fresh six out of seven days of the week and cooked to order, another tricky culinary technique that most restaurants don't do. The winter menu includes pasta dishes like Mama Bessie Pasta, a Sicilian-inspired dish with fettuccine noodles, chicken, artichokes, and black olives in a tomato sauce. The Rigatoni with Country Greens, Sausage and Hot Peppers is a pasta dish with a little more heat, combining spicy sausage, hot Italian finger peppers, garlic-sauteed greens, Romano cheese and Rigatoni noodles.

Paesano takes wine pairings very seriously, even travelling around the world to meet winemakers and taste their wines. Trips are followed by a special Wine Maker's Dinner at the restaurant, with foods to match the newly-discovered wines. "It's like a theatrical production for our chefs and we roll in Italian musicians and announce it to our 6,000 social media followers," Roddy says. "It's one of the many 'everything Italian' things that we love doing."

Paesano even goes beyond food and wine to share Italian culture with the Ann Arbor community. Italian language classes are taught by Sicilian-born Signore Salvatore Bisaccia, who breaks each class down by level of experience, starting with an introduction for beginners in the Level 1 course. Typically, six classes per week are held, to allow everyone an opportunity to attend class and practice the language even with busy schedules.

"I believe that locals might tell you that Paesano is one of their neighborhood 'spots,'" says Roddy. "We have had 32 years getting to know everyone, and they have often taken part in our Wine Maker Dinners, monthly wine tastings, Italian language classes, cooking classes with our former chef Isabella or traveled to Italy with us on our annual Food and Wine Trips. We wouldn't have wanted to operate our restaurant in any other community!"

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About The Author

Kelly Church is a writer and avid reader with a Bachelor's of Science in Journalism...

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