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It apparently takes a lot of staying power to maintain a successful restaurant at 2 Hickory Hollow Ln. in Lansing. Watercress couldn’t do it, neither could Billy Bob Jack’s BBQ. Yet Ciao is doing it…and with gusto! Ciao opened in November 2010 with a combination of comfy leather booths and pendant lighting.

The popularity of the restaurant only seems to be increasing as it moves into its second decade. The 138-seat restaurant is usually filled soon after the 4 p.m. opening.

Service starts with a complimentary basket of ciabatta with a homemade dipping oil containing herbs, a pepper slice and a garlic clove.

For appetizers I’ve enjoyed Arancini ($9.95) and also Grilled Chicken Wings ($12.95). The Arancini are risotto fritters stuffed with mozzarella in a pesto and pomodoro sauce. When I sliced into one with a fork, some gooey, stringy cheese oozed out. Yum.

The wings were not what I expected. There were seven, roasted in Ciao’s wood-fired oven, grilled to order, then covered with a caramelized onion and Parmesan cheese sauce, and I also detected a hint of lemon. Since they were smothered in sauce they had to be eaten with a knife and fork. Really delicious.

I was thinking that both appetizers were so hearty they could be ordered with one of Ciao’s salads for a complete meal on the lighter side.

The 11” Pizzas ($10.95-$14.95) are a favorite here. They’re cooked in a really hot (600 degrees) wood-fired oven that you can see from your table. The last time I reviewed Ciao the wood came mostly from Iowa. Now all the hickory wood comes from nearby Newfield.

The best-selling pizza is the classic Margherita made with crushed tomato, mozzarella, torn basil and sliced garlic. However my favorite is the Pear & Gorgonzola. The toppings of fresh sliced pear, caramelized onions, bacon and gorgonzola are flavorful, crunchy, and all seem to complement each other.

An interesting and pungent pasta entrée is Rigatoni Scarpiello ($11.95). It may be too spicy for some readers because of the spicy Gianelli sausage, chicken pieces and some cherry peppers all mixed together in slightly spicy homemade marinara sauce.

The lasagna ($14.95) is wonderful. It’s the classic assembly with layers of pasta sheets and meat sauce with béchamel. However this one also incorporates five different cheeses: provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, Romano and Parmesan. It’s a robust, tasty blend.

The two desserts I’ve had are both delicious. Chocolate Mousse in some establishments is simply chocolate pudding. This one ($6.95) is made with melted imported chocolate chips and is dark, creamy and melts in your mouth. The Tiramisu ($5.95) is also homemade with lady fingers which are soaked in espresso and then layered with homemade mascarpone cream and dusted with cocoa powder. The mascarpone cream is made with homemade whipped cream folded together with mascarpone cheese.

More wine is sold than beer. About 45% of the alcoholic beverages sold here is wine, 30% beer, and 25% liquor. The wine menu is comprehensive with all the established grape varieties and countries of origin listed, although I would have liked to see more than two New York wines on the menu. I have no problem that vintages aren’t disclosed as most of us don’t care anyway and it gives the buyer and distributor more flexibility. Seven-ounce glasses cost $7, nine-ounces are a couple of dollars higher, and bottles start at $28.

There are three draft beers served by the pint or 25-ounce mug, and about a dozen-and-a-half domestic and imported beers in bottles.

It’s understandable that Ciao has been serving food and beverages for more than a decade at the same location in Lansing. If you’ve dined at Ciao I’m sure you’ll agree that this occupant of 2 Hickory Hollow Ln. is here to stay. It’s one of the best restaurants in our area.

Tidbits:

Dinner is served from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. every evening. As of this writing, there are no plans to resume lunch service.

Gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian menus are available if you request them.

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