BENNY'S ITALIAN GARDEN
Another restaurant profile by J.B.Blocker, the Lone Star Reporter
Family is very important to the Polisi family. So when one of their cousins was to be married, Zati and his wife Flora brought their two teenage sons to attend the wedding in Allen, Texas. They left their family farm in Albania and packed for an extended visit. They liked Texas, respected America, and decided to stay.
For generations the family has lived close to where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet just southeast of the heel of the Italian peninsula. They were strongly influenced by fresh seafood as well as locally produced fare. Even though the family is Italian, the region also has a strong Greek influence. Their homeland is rich in history and the melding of ancient cultures.
|Back Row: Little Benny, Flora, Zati, Chef Benny, Alisa, Shippy, and Sabi Front Row: Mayor Brian Loughmiller, Richard Pedretti-Allen, and County Judge Keith Self|
It's good to have a talented and dedicated chef, but you need more to insure a successful restaurant. You need a really good manager who takes quality, management, and hospitality seriously. Fortunately, Chef Benny had the best of allies. His younger brother who was also being called Benny by his friends has the mind of a responsible businessman. Little Benny was 14 when the family came for the wedding and chose to become a part of the American Dream.
Benny's Italian Garden is a family affair.
You have two brothers affectionately known as Big and Little Benny, their wives Alisa and Fiola, parents Zati and Flora, cousin Shippy, and his wife Sabi all cooking and serving. Every diner is treated like guest of honor.
Great hospitality and service, fresh homemade dishes, and consistently creative recipes keep people coming back. After 3 years, the little diner has become a favorite to those who know. On the day of our review, the younger Benny proudly announced that he would be registering to vote in the coming election.
"You've Got To Try Their Food"
I was attending a mixer and chatting with a friend, Allen's Mayor Steve Terrell when he introduced me to the younger Benny. Steve immediately began to rave about their food and was surprised that I didn't know about them.
While visiting with Benny, we were joined by Donna Loughmiller. She immediately confirmed what Steve had said about the great food. She has her favorite dish, freshly made Lobster Ravioli in a mushroom and garlic cream sauce.
When they told me the diner's location, I realized I have passed it dozens of times without noticing. I often travel Custer Road that is the border of McKinney and Frisco between Highway 121 and 380, aka University. Just north of Virginia is a strip mall with the Italian Garden on the north end. I had never noticed it before.
Lunch for $7.95
It didn't take but a few days before I was again driving down Custer I noticed the familiar colors of an Italian restaurant and decided a late lunch was in order.
I was greeted and seated immediately by the gracious Fiola. Before I was settled momma Flora had delivered hot freshly baked garlic bread and a glass of water. The 16 Lunch Specials looked like a bargain at $6.95. One after the other, the family was making their rounds chatting with new and regular guest. It wasn't long before I had a superb creamy bowl of mushroom soup.
The house dressing from a family recipe on a romaine salad was so good I was using the bread liberally to sop up the last of the dressing. It is sold by the bottle for $4.95 under the label 'Tony's Own.' I left with a bottle!
When I tasted the meatballs, I instantly gained a greater respect for the chef. They were firm yet moist and giving with the distinct flavor of Veal in the mixture. They were perfect!
While talking to the family, Benny brought out one of their popular appetizers. Five crab claws on a bed of a lemony/herb sauce. As I used my soup spoon to gather the last of this delicious sauce I looked for more bread so I wouldn't have to lick the plate in public.
My dining experience was a revelation. The aromas, the feel of family hospitality, the wall sized and hand painted murals of Italian landscapes, and great food deserved to be shared with my friends.
I made arrangements with the two Benny's to give them a chance to show off to some of my friends too.
Our guest included my first friend from McKinney who happens to be the Mayor, Brian Loughmiller. He is one of my favorite guest reviewers and was already a big fan of the food and family. Collin County Judge Keith Self has been a supportive and gracious sounding board for me since we met several years ago. I also called on respected area networking pro and restaurant consultant Richard Pedretti-Allen.
I told the Benny's to “Just Show Off”. Boy, did they take me seriously!
Chef Benny took to the kitchen and the food started rolling out. First, their popular cheese pizza was served. Cousin Shippy is in charge of Pizza's, Calzones, Sub Sandwiches, and Stromboli's and takes his responsibility very seriously.
Before we could start on the pizza it was being followed by lightly crusted tender rings of Fried Calamari. There was a bowl of quartered meatballs swimming in a red sauce, U-8 Shrimp (that's 8 to a pound size) in a Scampi sauce, those marvelous Crab Claws in their lemony herb sauce, Fried Mozzarella Sticks, and plenty of fresh bread for soaking up all those glorious sauces.
Each of us ordered a different entree, and we all shared. In fact, all those dishes and all the excitement had drawn the attention of the other diners so I made my rounds sharing our fare. Most were already regulars who hadn't explored the menu like we were being treated to because they already had their favorites. Some had brought their own wine.
I gathered up enough of what was left over to take home remnants of a very special dining feast. As I write this review I am glad no one can see me lick my plate.
How could I have missed this place for the last 3 years? Thanks to Steve Terrell and Donna Loughmiller for the introduction!
McKinney's Mayor, Brian Loughmiller
When I first met “Benny” and “Benny”, the brothers behind the success of Italian Garden, I was immediately struck by their family friendliness that is synonymous with our community. My family fell in love with the restaurant and the food did not disappoint. We dine there often.
My favorites are the Pasta Sampler and Lasagna. My wife, Donna, loves the Lobster Ravioli. The food at Italian Garden is priced for the family on a budget, and the specials are truly special as Chef Benny creates something new regularly. Couple the great food with a family that works and laughs together with the customers and you get a great restaurant experience.
McKinney is fortunate to have another family owned business that operates with quality, consistency, and pride. Along with their school age children, the Polisi family is now an involved part of the tapestry of McKinney.
Collin County Judge Keith Self
It was a pleasure to be treated to a sampling of the dishes prepared at Benny's Italian Gardens. I made sure to taste all of offerings.
I want to compliment the Polisi family for their genuine hospitality. They made a point of graciously attending to all their other customers while we were enjoying sampling their food and learning about the family. Everyone in their restaurant was obviously important to them!
The appetizers were fabulous. I kept going back to the calamari but the other dishes were also distinctive, particularly the crab claws. Get the crab claws! The regular order is 5 fresh claws lying on a rich and complex lemon herb sauce. It's a good thing they provide fresh baked homemade bread.
My favorite dish was the Chicken Murphy. A creation of Chef Benny, it is superb! It features another great sauce that includes mushrooms, red peppers, and a hint of jalapenos. Although the peppers give it just a hint of heat, it really enhances rather than overpowering the dish.
Professional Networker and Restaurant Consultant, Richard Pedretti-Allen
I truly enjoyed being invited as a guest reviewer along with my former neighbor, McKinney Mayor, Brian Loughmiller and Collin County Judge, Keith Self for a food sampling lunch at Benny's Italian Garden. I had known it was there for a few years but had never been in. My mistake!
They started by bringing out plates of starters as soon as we were seated. That was just the starters! These were followed by a petite Dinner Salad with their signature house dressing.
Entrees were brought to the table including Shrimp Scampi, Lasagna, Chicken Murphy, and a Seafood Combo consisting of fresh mussels, jumbo shrimp, large scallops, with a piquant sauce served over linguine.However unlikely, it wouldn't be hard to convince me that the Seafood Special, the Crab Claws, or the Shrimp Scampi is where the term "Awesome Sauce" originated! Not to disparage the other dishes at all, but these three were simply amazing dishes that kept us going back for one more taste. When the food on those dishes was gone, we kept the plates for a dipping sauce for the fresh garlic bread. It was a simple case of the tongue being greedy.
Fortunately we shared the abundant offerings with neighboring tables which barely left us room for desert and an Espresso or Cappuccino. I am not a big desert guy... a couple bites and I'm done. I ate every bit of my slice of Cappuccino Ice Cream Cake.
With all this attention, I was concerned that the other patrons might be shorted in some way but that simply was not the case. Benny works the entire room and the other family members are friendly and attentive.
The ambiance is lively, casual, and comfortable. The menu is complete without being overwhelming. In any event, should you be unable to decide from the menu, find out what Chef Benny's daily special is.
The prices are unexpectedly wallet friendly and you can BYOB, which to me means that I can bring in a very nice bottle of wine and have a wonderful meal without having to worry about missing a car payment.
I have a new favorite restaurant and will be talking about this place for a long time.
- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962.