Table Talk

Italian Village cafe's new owner maintains casual mood

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Cafe Del Mondo has become part of a growing restaurant group.

Ismail Al Shahal, whose group owns the Crest Gastropub in Clintonville, among other food-service enterprises, has purchased the casual eatery in Italian Village.

Al Shahal has kept many familiar aspects of the restaurant in place, including the laid-back, inexpensive Italian -- and Italian-influenced American -- fare and imported coffee for which Cafe Del Mondo has been known for more than a decade.

He retained general manager Alex Thomas, son of founders Bill and Bruna Brundige, his stepfather and mother.

Of late, the restaurant has added dinners Thursday through Saturday.

The menu will change frequently as seasonal ingredients allow and customers demand.

"I don't want to get stuck doing the same thing," Thomas said. "Where's the fun in that? Where's the freshness in that?"

A recent menu offered spicy Kahlua shrimp on garlic toast, minestrone and Old World lasagna. Nothing topped $16.

Indeed, there's a legitimate Italian flavor to the restaurant.

Lidia Camela, a native of Giulianova, Abruzzo, also remains part of the staff. Camela, who's been with the company for a decade, is known for her fresh creations, such as four different stromboli: four meat (capicolla, pepperoni, salami and ham); chicken with pesto; sausage, pepper and onion; and vegetable.

Camela has worked for the local restaurant scene for more than 30 years, including at Vincenzo's, Carfagna's and the defunct GiAntonio's Pastry Shoppe.

"She's brought an authentic flavor to this," said Al Shahal, who added that Giusy Trapasso, a native of Catanzaro, Calabria, also works in the kitchen.

Homemade dessert selections also rotate, but among the common choices are tiramisu and rum raisin mascarpone cheesecake with an amaretto cookie crust.

Cafe Del Mondo started out as Frutta Del Mondo, a wholesale distributor of food products, 15 years ago in the Grandview Heights area.

The Brundiges closed that location and moved it to its current spot, 659 N. Fourth St., 11 years ago.

They opened a cafe to help sell the merchandise, Thomas said.

The couple later opened a full-service restaurant, Cafe del Mondo, on West Fifth Avenue in Grandview Heights, but it closed in 2009.

Over time, the Italian Village restaurant expanded seating from 20 to 80, which includes some tables on an outdoor patio.

The cafe still sells a number of Italian products -- including deli meats, olive oil, espresso machines and panini presses -- as well as homemade dishes.

The cafe also is known for its coffee drinks -- espresso, cappuccino, lattes and the like.

It is the only local vendor of Danesi coffee, an Italian import also available for carryout.

Cafe Del Mondo is located just north of Interstate 670 on a fast-traveling one-way street heading out of downtown.

Thomas said he wants the cafe to be more visible to neighbors, who seem to just pass by.

"When they're getting home from work, we're leaving for work," he said.

But there's promising growth in the area, both from a business and residential standpoint.

For example, Wagenbrenner Development has broken ground on Jeffrey Place, a 1,350-unit apartment complex across the street.

Also, there are bars emerging along the corridor, including Little Rock and microbrewery Seventh Son Brewing Co., both just down the street.

"This whole strip is about to be 'The Spot,' " Thomas said.

"This is the next frontier for the city."

In addition to dinner hours, Cafe Del Mondo is open for lunch Monday through Friday. For more information, call 614-294-5000.

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