Giuseppe's Ritrovo is a local institution for good reason.

It's not a fluke that Giuseppe's Ritrovo is a local institution. Located in the heart of Bexley - next to the Drexel and across from Capital University - the upscale casual Giuseppe's can convert newcomers into regulars after a single visit.

A fun and lively place where suited gentlemen enjoy wine and pizza at the granite bar next to big tables of cocktailing ladies close by families smiling over bowls of their all-time favorite pastas, this big windowed restaurant exudes true neighborhood charm. No wonder it's almost as packed on a cold and crappy Monday evening as it is on a Saturday night.

A gaze at Giuseppe's rustic brick walls and slick modern art is a clue into its way with a menu. In other words, the place manages to simultaneously embrace and transcend classic Italian-American cooking.

While the basic pasta-loaded food document hasn't altered drastically over the years, there are always-interesting nightly specials. And recently, a few new and exciting developments have been introduced: a terrific happy hour and a short list of ambitious cocktails.

On the happy hour front, most of Giuseppe's glasses of wine, terrific handmade pizzas and snazzy appetizer dishes are sold for about half off. This means that between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. - at the bar only - great deals await those who show up early.

That was me recently, as I sipped some food-friendly vino ($5 per glass) and dug into the pretty Prosciutto Crudo Antipasto ($13, or $6 at happy hour). Sheets of soft, supple, sweet and succulent Parma ham were placed atop a chopped salad of kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella and marinated artichoke hearts. I liked how the creamy cheese helped direct the focus onto the delicate meat amidst bolder elements.

High-quality mushrooms (lots of shiitakes), plenty of racy tomato sauce and a very attractive thin and crispy crust delighted mightily in the Al Funghi pizza ($15, or $9 at happy hour). What's more, the wide pie was large enough to feed two to three for dinner or serve as an appetizer for a huge table. (Pizzas are also available in whole wheat or gluten-free crusts.)

About 20 pastas make up the bulk of Giuseppe's menu, and ranging from the killer $10 Spaghetti and Meatballs to pricier, seafood-laden varieties, they're all good. Like the extravagant Gamberi Di Sicilia ($22). Lots of garlicky, good-quality shrimp were matched with fine mushrooms in a spicy and lavish cognac and heavy-duty cream sauce. Perfectly al dente linguine soaked up the richness.

The Six Cheese Ravioli ($15) were a half-dozen firm pasta pillows filled with a ricotta-forward dairy blend. Making the dish extra special was a light, herby and acidic tomato sauce bountifully flecked with delicious mushrooms and chopped chicken.

For dessert, the Blueberry Bread Pudding ($7.50) was a good choice for those (like me) seeking something with a restrained sweetness. Drizzles of creme anglaise played beautifully with the plentiful fruit.

If you'd rather sip dessert, pick one of Giuseppe's specialty cocktails - they use enticing ingredients like grappa, Aperol and rhubarb bitters. From these, the "Sidebar" Sidecar ($9) - its brandy and Grand Marnier leavened by citrus - will carry you home in style.

Correction: The hours for Spiro's Plaza Cafe was incorrect in the Dec. 16 review. Hours for the restaurant are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

To read G.A. Benton's blog visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com

To read G.A. Benton's blog visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com