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Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano

If you haven’t dined at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano lately, it’s time to return.

Open since 2001, the Italian restaurant, at 320 Collins Rd. NE, has a reputation for fine dining, but is also family-friendly and a convenient spot for lunch.

Managing Partner Eric Loest noted that the interior had a remake in 2015. Soft lighting and reds and gold-toned accents complement dark wood seating and tables, with elegant tablecloths and music adding to Biaggi’s ambiance.

The restaurant can handle good-sized crowds, with seating for nearly 300, but just as importantly, attentive servers who keep up with customers at each table. Food is prepared fresh from scratch with each order and a wide variety of drinks are available, including an extensive wine list.

Two private rooms offer ideal spots for business meetings or family get-togethers. Marriage proposals, anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions are often celebrated at Biaggi’s.

Not only has the look of Biaggi’s evolved, but the menu is constantly evolving, as well. Chefs pride themselves on being open to modifications or substitutions to accommodate customer requests and dietary needs. For health-conscious diners, dressings and sauces can be served on the side and side salads or steamed vegetables can be substituted in place of potatoes or fries.

In addition, Biaggi’s offers more than 30 gluten-free menu items, with pasta made from spinach, for example, and even gluten-free pizza. Everyone in the kitchen is trained on proper handling of the gluten-free items, Loest said.

A “Lighter Side” menu includes items with less than 600 calories, with tantalizing choices such as butternut squash ravioli with smoked chicken; roasted vegetable risotto, with creamy Italian rice, a medley of roasted vegetables and Asiago cheese; grilled Canadian walleye and even a petite filet mignon or grilled pork chop with roasted vegetables.

Biaggi’s is ideally located for employees at nearby Rockwell Collins, who often stop by for lunch, Loest said. Among the popular lunch choices is the “Half & Half,” with a choice of two items from a list of soups and half salads and half sandwich or pizza, for just $9.99.

Sandwiches include options such as smoked turkey and avocado; a grilled chicken and goat cheese panini and crab cake sliders, featuring lump crab, red pepper aioli, smoked cheddar cheese and honey orange cole slaw.

Loest said Biaggi’s most popular entree tends to be the dijon salmon with a dijon mustard sauce, angel hair pasta, spinach, tomatoes and basil; one of the “Lighter Side” menu options, while the top selling “Signature Pasta” is the fettuccini with lobster.

On a recent lunch, I tried the latter and soon realized the reason behind its popularity. The black fettuccini noodles, colored with cuttlefish ink – a squid relative – were tender and complemented by chunks of lobster and a variety of wild mushrooms in a creamy lobster sauce. Chili flakes gave a subtle kick to the dish, which was served piping hot to our table.

A Mediterranean salad provided a light side for the pasta, featuring a mix of garden-fresh spinach and other greens, along with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and a nice touch of capers, all in a red wine vinaigrette.

I also sampled three soups: a hearty vegetable minestrone, with chunks of beans and assorted vegetables, the smooth bisque-style sherry tomato soup, made with sherry wine, and my favorite, the lobster corn chowder, with a flavorful blend of sweet corn, potatoes, red pepper and Maine lobster.

The meal was served with two tasty Biaggi’s breads: focaccia and ciabatta, served with olive oil/cheese “Biaggi’s butter.” The bread is complimentary with meals and worth a visit in itself.

Other menu items include a variety of appetizers, seafood, steak and chops, and desserts, including the decadent white chocolate bread pudding, made with brioche and white chocolate sauce.

Fans of the restaurant can sign up to join Club Biaggi’s. Members receive the latest Biaggi’s news via email, plus a free appetizer for joining, seasonal recipes, a special birthday gift, new menu previews and special event invitations. Loest said the events include specialty wine dinners, with unique menu items paired with wine.

Biaggi’s also offers curbside takeout, which includes the entire menu, and large party pickup and catering. A popular option for takeout has been Biaggi’s Pronto Packs, which includes the Pasta Pronto Pack, with a choice of nine different pastas, house or Caesar salad and bread for $40, or the new Pizza Pronto Pack for $30, with two pizzas, salad and bread. Both are designed to serve four to five people.

Loest said Biaggi’s focus on fresh food, combined with unique and evolving menu options, along with its atmosphere, keeps customers returning.

“We’re thought of as fine dining, but we can be casual and relaxed, too,” he said.

Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, 320 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For reservations, call (319) 393-6593. Find the full menu:

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