Red or Green?
La Dolce Vita
With tasty meals plus tantalizing desserts, Las Cruces'
Si Italian Bistro has it all.
by Peggy Platonos
If you like really good Italian food, you'll want to try Si Italian Bistro in Las Cruces — and if you've already tried it, I'm sure you won't need any encouragement from me to return to it again and again.
Si Italian Bistro Manager Gina Salas opens the door to the wood-fired pizza oven imported from Italy. All the tile work surrounding the oven was done by chef-owner Jeremy Hixon. (Photo by Peggy Platonos)
Located in the old Cox family mansion built in 1887, the restaurant radiates homespun charm and the kind of quality that is neither snobbish nor flamboyant. The menu remains the same throughout the day, and ranges from classic entrées like Chicken Piccatta, Chicken Marsala, Frutti de Mare alla Provençal, and Chicken or Melanzane Parmesan to burgers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas — all tweaked creatively in subtle and satisfying ways.
And as for desserts — well, that's a story unto itself. Ordinarily, desserts come after meals. But in the evolution of Si Italian Bistro, the desserts came first. The amazing variety of cakes, pies, cream puffs, brownies and cheesecakes available today at Si Italian Bistro first appeared in a tiny Las Cruces establishment called Sweet Indulgence, opened by Marybeth Higgins in 1997.
"My son, Jeremy Hixon, and I ran the business together. We served pastries for breakfast and a limited menu of sandwiches for lunch, and, of course, we sold cakes, cream puffs, pies, etcetera," Marybeth says. "The place was very small. It seated about 25 people — maybe 30, with the patio."
The pressure of success demanded extra space, and in 2005, she and Jeremy closed the little shop, and opened Si Italian Bistro at its current location, with Sweet Indulgence desserts an integral part of it.
"It's very much a family business," Marybeth says. "My daughter, Meagan, helps me with the pastry part of it, and Jeremy, as chef-owner, oversees the entire kitchen operation."
With a seating capacity of 80 to 90 people, the new restaurant expanded its menu, too, adding more sandwich options and introducing full Italian dinners.
"My dad was in the Navy and we lived in Italy when I was growing up. Mom learned to cook there from some of the local Italian women, and she sort of taught us," Marybeth says. "We included pizza on the menu and imported a Mugnaini wood-fired pizza oven from Italy because my son wanted it so badly. He put together and installed the oven himself, and did all the decorative tile work around it. The oven is completely wood-fired, uses no gas, and it's a real art to work that pizza oven. Jeremy has got it figured out."
The restaurant offers its wide variety of pizzas in three sizes: small (8-inch) for $6.95 to $8.95; medium (12-inch) for $9.95 to $14.95; and large (16-inch) for $12.95 to $16.95. It's all the thin-crust type of pizza.
"Really, this is the best pizza I've ever had," Marybeth says, and customers obviously agree, because they keep coming back for more.
"Everything we serve is made in-house from scratch," Marybeth explains. "With my daughter's help, I make the soups, quiches and desserts. Jeremy makes all the bread, all his own pasta, all the sauces, and he smokes the mesquite chicken and honey-roasted chicken for the sandwiches."
Prices are reasonable, with dinner entrées ranging from $14 (Chicken or Melanzana Parmesan) to $18.95 (Chicken Jerusalem, Wood-Fired Salmon, and Steak Macias). Salads cost $7 to $9.50; quiche is $8.50; pasta dishes range from $7 for a half portion of Pasta Marinara to $15 for Vegetable Lasagna or Lasagna Napoletano.
Sandwiches are served plain ($7.50) or with the choice of one side dish ($9.50). And burgers range in price from $6 to $7.50 (without a side dish) or $8 to $9.50 (with one side). Some of the more unusual sandwich options include Waldorf Chicken Salad, Portobello Blue Cheese, and Mesquite Chicken Chile sandwiches. And the Bistro Burger is out of the ordinary, with a topping of caramelized onions, fresh spinach, Gorgonzola cheese and ripe tomatoes.
Beer and wine are available, along with Italian sodas and the usual beverage options.
Desserts cost $4.95 to $6, and you can go look at the pastries on display in the glass cases opposite the entrance to make your selection.
There is a special bakery menu that you can pick up at the restaurant if you are interested in buying a whole cake, pie or cheesecake. Any of the long list of items on that menu can be special-ordered with 24 hours notice. Do NOT look at this list if you're on a diet. Items like Caramel Pecan Cake, Black Forest Cake, Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake, Streusel-topped Rhubarb Pie or Key Lime Pie may prove irresistible.
Whole cakes, incidentally, can be ordered in three sizes: 6-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch.
Some of the pasta items on the meal menu can also be special-ordered in quantity with 48 hours' notice. They must be picked up at the restaurant, however; there is no delivery service available.
Si Italian Bistro takes reservations for parties of up to 20 people. The number to call for reservations or special orders is (575) 523-1572.
The restaurant is located at 523 E. Idaho. It is closed on Sundays. The hours for the rest of the week are: Monday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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