Villa Dolce Does Italian Right

Maria's Pizza
Photo by Eric Tadsen

In a city where the average restaurant may not make it past a year or two, Villa Dolce Italian Restaurant in Middleton is not only celebrating 10 years in business, but co-owner Faton “Tony” Lumani plans to update the eatery’s look and menu this fall.

In 2006, Tony and his brother, Jerry Lumani, launched Villa Dolce at 1828 Parmenter Street, specializing in thin crust pizza and homemade gelato. The Lumani family is a mainstay in Middleton. They’ve run the Bavaria Family Restaurant around the corner on Elmwood Avenue for 25 years, which 6 years ago, they updated to Sofra Family Bistro (Sofra means “family table” in Albanian). The updated menu and change in concept reflects a growing and changing community with modern tastes.

Today, as Middleton continues to expand, the Lumanis are keen to keep up with current flavor trends. With a major new development under construction across the street from Villa Dolce that promises to include hundreds of new apartments, retail, and office space, Tony plans to update the look and menu of Villa Dolce yet this year.

“We are very aware of the changes taking place in Middleton, and want to make sure our menu and our space is fresh and appealing,” Tony says. “You don’t stay in business if you don’t keep up with the changes going on around you.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

What won’t change on the menu are the signature dishes that have brought Villa Dolce a loyal following, such as its famous thin crust pizza with dough made from scratch, topped with fresh herbs and toppings such as pear and gorgonzola or prosciutto and arugula, or dishes, such as the Salmon Salad, featuring kale, beets, avocado, quinoa, farro, maple walnuts, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette, topped with grilled salmon.

Another favorite dish is Villa Dolce’s Beef Bolognese, made with homemade beef ragu and tomato sauce, and then finished with a touch of cream and fresh herbs, served over papperdelle noodles. One of Tony’s favorite dishes, the house special is extremely popular and carries traditional flavors that people who’ve eaten abroad or cook at home truly appreciate.

“Every item on our menu is chosen for a reason,” Tony says. “We started out with just pizza and gelato, and then slowly started adding pasta dishes and salads. Our pasta dishes are crazy good, and we appreciate it when people complement our cooking.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Also popular is the Eggplant Parmesan, an old favorite with a new twist. It features oven-baked (not fried) eggplant, fresh mozzarella, and tomato sauce, finished with provolone and bread crumbs, and can be prepared gluten free.

Everything at Villa Dolce is made from scratch to order in a small, but efficient kitchen that serves a restaurant housed in a former historic home in the heart of downtown Middleton. Before Villa Dolce, the space was home to a few different restaurants, but when the building became available in 2006, the Lumanis knew it would be perfect for an Italian restaurant. With ample outdoor seating and cozy indoor tables spreading out into several rooms flooded with natural light, the restaurant is not only a favorite for first dates and special occasions, but has become a community gathering spot for locals looking to enjoy good, homemade food.

“We wanted to make the kind of food we grew up eating,” Tony says. The Lumanis are Albanian and moved to the United States in 1989. Since then, they’ve never stopped exploring new tastes and modern flavors for their restaurants, and have kept tabs on the changes in American tastes. One of their signature dishes at both restaurants is their Lumani sausage, an old family recipe made from lamb and beef. At Villa Dolce, customers may enjoy a sausage entrée of grilled house-made lamb and beef sausage patties, served with fresh mediterranean salad and feta cream cheese spread.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Villa Dolce also features an expansive cocktail, wine, spirits, martini, and craft beer list, including its ever-popular “Gela-tini,” made with gelato and spirits. One of the most popular Gelatini flavors is the Strawberry Sensation, made with Malibu coconut and pineapple rum, Cointreau, and strawberry gelato. It’s the perfect combination of a drink and dessert. Other flavors include Divinity, made with Godiva Chocolate Vodka, Kahlua, and chocolate gelato, as well as Pink Passion, crafted with Absolut Citron Vodka and grapefruit gelato.

Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., the eatery has also started a successful catering business, serving events of up to 100 people with the same food and service customers have come to expect at the restaurant. In addition, Villa Dolce may be booked for special events, especially on Sundays. Its stylish decor is perfect for rehearsal dinners, holiday parties, birthdays, and special celebrations. From live music to custom decorations, Tony says his staff has helped create events that leave guests reminiscing for years. Private events can seat up to 50 people, with room for 75 in a cocktail-style setting.

“Our customers understand we make our dishes in the old, craftsman way: using fresh ingredients and recipes handed down through generations, adding our own modern twist,” Tony says. “We look forward to serving great food to a growing community for many more years.”

Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.