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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014

A piece of home

Sunday, December 7, 2008

(Photo)
Some of the staff and management of La Villetta posed for a picture in front of the open kitchen at the restaurant. They are, from left: Shea Mattingly, co-owner and executive chef Qamil Ballazhi, Kani Emrueai, Kelly Lane, Lou Ramcja, co-owner Jack Ballazhi, Michael Pickard, Jennifer Carnell and Matthew Bain. The family restaurant serves authentic Italian recipes.
(Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- In Italian, "La Villetta" means "little house."

And the owners of the family restaurant in Sikeston want to make their business just that.

"We want to give the people of Sikeston a little piece of our homes," said Jack Ballazhi, general manager who owns the restaurant with brothers Jimmy and Qamil Ballazhi. Combined, the trio has about 50 years experience in the restaurant business.

The brothers moved here from Illinois. They said it was the "beautiful building" on East Malone they now occupy, in addition to the fact there was no other Italian eatery in Sikeston, among other factors, that attracted them.

(Photo)
Pictured are some signature dishes at La Villeta. Clockwise from top left is the fresh-baked panini bread with butter, cheese and oil; Farfalle di Monti-bowtie pasta with shrimp and scallops topped with signature La Villetta creamy tomato sauce; and a 12-ounce New York Strip Oscar with asparagus and crab meat, coupled with homemade garlic mashed potatoes.
The restaurant opened in mid-August. And so far, the owners said they have had much success, with brisk business during the lunch and dinner hours. Over the weekend, the Sunday brunch buffet pulls in a large crowd, too.

"People walk in and they say 'wow,'" said Mary Lentz, manager, of the options available at the brunch. By now, they are seeing a lot of familiar faces each weekend.

Served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Sunday brunch includes breakfast items such as Belgium waffles and an omelet bar. Several pasta dishes are available, plus carved roast beef, ham, a salad bar and dessert bar.

The buffet comes at a price of $9.99 for adults and $5.99 for those ages 3 to 12. Drinks are included.

"And everybody says they really feel like they get their money's worth," said Lentz. That includes meals ordered off the menu, she said, which comes with homemade bread and an all-you-can-eat salad bar or fresh soup on the side.

Several walk out of the restaurant with enough food left for another meal. "We have very large portions," said Lentz.

Another busy time is happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily. There are drink specials from the full bar, and all appetizers are half price during that time, said Lentz.

Most staff are experienced enough to be able to make wine recommendations to complement a meal, If not, Ballazhi said he is on hand during hours of operation and can also assist customers in making a selection.

Some of the most-ordered dishes include stuffed shells with spinach, fettuccine alfredo, spinach alfredo, stuffed mushrooms and lasagna.

The pizzas are popular items, too, according to Ballazhi. There are some Italian selections, or customers can also choose toppings to create their own. One of the top sellers is the Bianca "white" pizza, that is made of olive oil, grated Romano cheese, artichoke hearts and riccotta cheese.

Ballazhi noted that all the recipes are authentic Italian. In fact, some ingredients are so difficult to find in southeast Missouri, they are ordered at other restaurants and then sent to Sikeston.

"And it's all made fresh," he said. "It's all made from scratch and nothing is frozen."

But there are a few items that aren't Italian -- such as buffalo wings and potato skins -- that are simply popular dishes in the area. "It's a lot of trial and error," said Ballazhi. "We want to make the people happy."

There are separate lunch and dinner menus. However, a patron can order a dinner item at lunch, or vice versa. And if a customer wants an item that isn't on the menu -- for instance, calzones or stromboli-- Ballazhi said that, if the ingredients are available, the dish can be prepared.

"We are very flexible," he said.

Several customers also like the open kitchen layout, where they can see the chef and cooking staff prepare their dishes. And Ballazhi and his brothers are visible, constantly checking in with customers to ensure they are pleased.

La Villetta offers catering and banquet rooms. There are three rooms in the property, the largest which holds up to 100 people, and the others will hold up to 20 and 30. The largest room has an overhead projector, and management is working to add a microphone and speaker system, said Ballazhi.

Customers can choose from six different banquet packages for their catering.

The restaurant also offers catering and delivers to other locations. Recently, it prepared food for several fundraiser dinners, noted Ballazhi.

This month, several holiday parties are booked at the restaurant and other venues. "But some openings remain," said Ballazhi. He said anyone interested in having the restaurant prepare a holiday meal should contact them as soon as possible.

And for those looking for something smaller, family-style lunch packages are offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. In the two packages, customers can choose from salad, pasta, chicken and dessert options. Appetizers or other meats can be added for a fee, said Ballazhi. Bread, butter, cheese and oil are included in each.

During lunch and dinner, there is an appetizer, dessert and pizza package patrons can order.

With the holiday season, gift certificates are hot sellers, said Ballazhi. Through Christmas, anyone who purchases $100 in gift certificates will get an additional $10 certificate free, he said.

La Villetta is located at 1617 E. Malone. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For reservations or more information about the restaurant and its catering packages, call 471-0030.