When it comes to Italian food in Duluth, Va Bene has lead the way since 2006, on the strength of a menu focused exclusively on dishes originating in the Apennine Peninsula and Sicily. Antipasti, insalate, zuppa, pasta, panini and pizze are served on small tables overlooking Lake Superior or inside overlooking Superior street. The atmosphere is quaint and the space small, reminiscent of a busy little Italian cafe where there are more people than there are tables.
Ingredients and fresh, evident from the vibrant colors and full flavor. The bruschetta ($7) is made with juicy chunks of tomato, finely chopped garlic, and basil. A sweet balsamic is also used, bringing balance to the basil and garlic. The crostini are also available with honey goat cheese with pear ($9), portabella mushroom ($8.50), proscuitto and gorgonzola ($8.50), and Sicilian tuna ($7.50).
Among the panini, the P.L.P. ($8.75) stands out as the most creative blend of Italian food and good old American favorites. Made with pancetta, lettuce, and Pomodoro (tomato) the P.L.P. feeds the craving for a B.L.T. while still making you feel cultured. The pancetta is tougher than bacon and the flavor has more spice with a depth that is similar to prosciutto.
Alongside the regular menu, Va Bene offers gluten-free pasta for any of their pasta dishes. With over 19 pasta dishes available (including angel hair, gnocchi, spaghetti, and fettuccine) the gluten-free options are competitive with those at the Duluth Grill. The regular pasta isn’t made fresh, but all of the sauces are homemade and San Marzano tomatoes are used in all of the tomato-based sauces.
The patio at Va Bene is the only enclosed patio overlooking the lake in Duluth. The view is unbeatable, but before noon the sun shines directly on the patio making lunch in the enclosed porch uncomfortable. There is a limited, but comfortable seating area on an open porch connected to the enclosed porch that catches the lake breeze as well as the smells from the kitchen.
BEST BET: The unique and tasty P.L.P. is a great go-to.
734 E. Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55802
OWNERS: Mary Kay and Jim Berarducci
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-15