I was daydreaming the other day about the Scottish wedding scene in the early part…
Mike Larco’s A La Carte
Immigrant Ernesto Larco’s authentic Italian recipes and traditions made him an outstanding restaurateur in New England. In 1952, sons Pete, Nick and Mike Larco in Detroit parlayed the family legacy to success at Larco’s Inn on West McNichols, west of Livernois.
Other eateries with the Larco name came and went during the following years, but since October 2012, the next delicious chapter for the family is written six nights a week at Mike Larco’s A La Carte in Sylvan Lake.
The down-to-earth Mike Larco learned the business working alongside his father, Pete, and uncles. Mike also spent several years cooking at Lelli’s, another landmark Detroit restaurant, founded by his Uncle Nerio and Aunt Irene (formerly Larco) Lelli. That’s a heritage!
With partners Paul Mousley handling front-of-the-house duties and Mike’s wife, Tori (Stollman) Larco, helping in various ways, Mike Larco’s A La Carte is a casual, sit-down Italian American chophouse. What’s different is that the menu of traditional specialties was redesigned to serve a new kind of clientele. Instead of offering multiple courses, the “a la carte” in the restaurant’s name refers to diners’ ability to put together smaller, less wasteful meals at often more affordable prices.
“If you ordered a tossed salad for $3.50, chicken Marsala for $10.25 and had a glass of one of our house wines for $5, you could get away with dinner for under $20,” said Larco. As restaurant general manager, he oversees the kitchen and cooking staff of Marty Cardella and Adrian Sanchez.
The same meal, Larco said, costs even less during “Happy Hour” — 3-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday — when house wines are reduced to $3 a glass. Discounts on premium wines and beers are also offered. Several entrees are $4.95 then, the same price charged for children’s menu meals.
Mike Larco’s prides itself on using higher-grade choice beef, such as in its tasty Bolognese sauce. At least 10 sauces are available, including arrabiata, primavera and my personal favorite, palmina. This “signature sauce” consisting of napolitano, marinara, parmesan and cream is divine over pasta or chicken.
Carnivores enjoy different styles of beef tenderloin for $11.75 and veal for $12.50, including choice of sauce. The rightfully famous Zip really enhanced the flavor of my small, perfectly prepared filet. Zip sauce, said Larco, was a “Larco-Lelli collaboration.”
Lamb chops, rib-eye steak, filets, a house burger and several styles of chicken complete the meat selections. On the seafood side, three items are whitefish, mussels and breaded Shrimp Mike Larco, made with garlic, lemon and white wine.
Sides and additions to meals are plentiful. To name a few, there are Italian sausage, Anna potato, risotto and various sauteed vegetables.
The appetizer list has antipasto for 1, consisting of shrimp, salami, mozzarella cheese, carrots, pepperoncini and celery, and also popular tenderloin tips and Spiedini, mozzarella-layered bread with chopped green olives, lemon, garlic and wine sauce.
Among two soups available, one is always minestrone with kidney beans. It tastes just as this classic should. Salad selections include summery Caprese, featuring tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, pesto and olive oil. Among the salad add-ons are chicken, anchovies and crumbled bleu cheese.
For those who’d rather not build their own dinner, a chalkboard lists several entrees, such as horseradish-encrusted salmon, plus accompaniments.
There’s a daily “chef’s featured dessert,” or stick to the menu’s sweet treats. My recommendation is the luscious spumoni, all-natural, molded ice cream made by Larco’s half-sister, Marie Palazzolo, in Fennville. It’s a product of her Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto label, distributed by Sysco Corp.
A long bar visible upon entering serves to divide the restaurant’s two main dining rooms; one is a little more formal than the other. Some tables sport inlaid wood designs. Mike Larco’s offers a banquet room, and catering and carryout services are other strengths of the business.
Mike Larco’s A La Carte
2440 Orchard Lake Road
Sylvan Lake, MI 48320
$$1/2 out of $$$$$