From Italy to Huntsville, With Love

Aromas and flavours that remind us of home

The best Italian dishes follow a “less is more” philosophy when meshing flavours.

My Nonna (and my dad and myself) often make a delicious tomato sauce that uses only tomatoes, onions, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper – if you cook it right, you don’t need to over spice the sauce.

It’s also why my favourite, go to order at That Little Place by the Lights is the Pizza Bianca, which is literally translated into white pizza. In fact, I think it’s only on the menu so because I kept ordering it for years.

Every Italian kid I know used to love the homemade pizza bianca that their mom, aunts (zias), or nonna (grandmother) made. Always simple, not over season, not over sauced, a small amount of toppings (if any).

Well, Little Place has their own take on it – and I hate to say it, but it’s my favourite of them all.

And Manny Buttus, whose family founded the restaurant, won’t admit it but the only reason it survived on the menu so long is because I kept ordering it over the years.

Pizza Bianca is called such because it uses olive oil instead of tomato sauce (or other more colourful sauces) as it’s base. Little Place then tops it off with mozzarella, caramelized onions, mushrooms, pancetta and provolone cheese.

Each bite is a perfect combination of these flavours and goes well with a nice glass of San Pellegrino chinotto, a soft drink which is like the bitter-sweet taste of Brio.

But, it’s not for everyone, so their menu features all manners of pizza from traditional tomato sauce and cheese to Primavera (olives, artichokes and more veggies) to Diavolo with Tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy salami, red onion and chili flakes; and several more.

Being of recent Italian descent – myself and my cousins were the first of our family born in Canada – I prefer not to dine out at Italian restaurants. There is often something lacking when the bloodline of the owner (or owners) doesn’t have any connection to the Old Country.

But that’s not the case at That Little Place By the Lights in Downtown Huntsville. It’s one of the only Italian restaurants I will actually eat at. The Buttus family puts their heart and soul into their meals, which is evident in the taste.

If you haven’t been there yet, or haven’t tried all their dishes yet, their signature must be Mama Annie’s famous Lasagna. As both a Nonna and a Mama, Annie puts a lot of love into her melt-in-your-mouth lasagna.

Noodles made from scratch and tenderly layered with complimentary flavours. There is a savoury Bolognese sauce in one layer, and béchamel in another, as well as healthy doses of mozzarella and parmagiano cheeses to complete the oven-baked dish.

Eat it at the restaurant in a single serving – which of course everyone will want a bite of – or take home a pre-made lasagna and let the whole family enjoy in the comfort of your own home. We’ve done both and it was delicious on each occasion.

Meanwhile, my son loves the meatball and chicken parm sandwiches, my friends all agree the mushroom ravioli are phenomenal, and there is a solid wine and spirit list to choose from.

And because it’s a family restaurant, they make sure to have student lunch specials throughout the school year that are affordable and quick enough to get the kids fed and back to school on time for afternoon classes.

Annie, her husband Loris, Manny and his wife Lindsay have built the restaurant into a must-visit destination. You can even check out Annie teaching Italian words to the masses on social media and their website.

Plus, in 2022, they opened an upper level patio that has wonderful views of the Muskoka River

Their combined efforts even piqued the interest of TV personality John Catucci several years ago, who featured Little Place on his former Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here – twice.

As Catucci mentioned to me previously, he knew this was a real Italian restaurant when he walked by and the aroma emanating reminded him of home.

Whether it’s the pizza, the lasagna, or one of the many other dishes made with Nonna’s love, That Little Place By the Lights is Italian food the way it should be.

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