During a recent visit to Villa Dolce Italian Restaurant in Middleton, Gazette restaurant reviewer Bill Livick enjoyed this arugula and spinach salad that featured baby organic arugula and spinach, glazed walnuts, balsamic marinated onions, ricotta salata cheese, fresh mint, mandarin oranges, oil cured olives, shaved Parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette.

Bill Livick photo


If you haven’t visited downtown Middleton lately, you might be surprised at what a bustling commercial district it has become. These days, it is filled with boutique shops and nice restaurants.

Villa Dolce Italian Restaurant is located in the heart of it all, at the corner of Parmenter Street and Hubbard Avenue. The restaurant has operated in a restored historic home since 2006, when owners Faton and Jerry Lumani created a menu built around artisan pizzas, house-made gelato and classic recipes such as eggplant Parmesan, beef Bolognese and linguini Caprese.

The restaurant has thrived for more than a decade in a city where most restaurants don’t last more than a year or two. One reason has to do with its terrific pasta dishes and thin-crust pizzas, and another is its fine service and comfortable atmosphere.

Villa Dolce is locally famous for its thin-crust pizza with dough made from scratch and then covered with fresh herbs and toppings such as pear and Gorgonzola, or prosciutto and arugula. Another favorite is the kitchen’s beef Bolognese, made from homemade beef ragu and tomato sauce and then finished with a touch of cream and fresh herbs served over Papperdelle noodles. Also popular, according to our server, is the eggplant Parmesan, an old favorite that features oven-baked eggplant, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce finished with provolone and bread crumbs.

Everything at Villa Dolce is made from scratch to order.

We made our first visit to the restaurant on a Thursday night, and the place was busy. People are drawn not only for the fine food but also for the environment. There’s something familiar and comfortable about dining in a big old house that has been lovingly restored.

Villa Dolce has several dining rooms, each with lots of large windows that look out to Middleton’s attractive downtown. During summer months, the restaurant offers outside dining with tables placed around two sides of the building on a corner lot.

A friend and I began our meal by sharing a Caprese salad ($12) and truffle fries ($10). The salad featured fresh Italian burrata (a creamy white cheese) and heirloom tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic reduction and Parmesan. The fries come topped with rosemary and cheese sauce and are dusted with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

The salad appears on the restaurant’s appetizer list, and there’s a separate list of six salads. All are served in portions large enough to share.

We ordered another salad to share with our entrees. The excellent arugula and spinach salad ($11) is loaded with flavor. It comes with baby organic arugula and spinach, glazed walnuts, balsamic marinated onions, ricotta salata cheese, fresh mint, mandarin oranges, oil cured olives, shaved Parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette.

We sampled a couple of main courses built around pasta and were not disappointed. Each was served, again, in a large portion and was rich and flavorful.

A plate of pasta farfalle combined bowtie pasta with grilled asparagus, large wild mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and herbs served in a creamy lemon saffron mascarpone sauce ($19). My companion commented on how the flavor of each item was discernible on its own yet also cohered into a sensational plate greater than the sum of its parts, as the saying goes.

That was also true of the Thursday night special: wild mushroom ravioli with chicken ($22). Here, wild mushrooms are sautéed with marsala wine cream sauce, herbs and truffle Parmesan for another rich, satisfying pasta dish. The plate is enhanced with tender slices of herbed chicken breast.

About the only minor drawback to the experience was in the service, which at times was spotty as wine and water glasses went unfilled. My friend was hoping for another glass of Italian wine, but by the time our server got back to check on us, she had lost interest and was ready to move on to dessert.

For that, we sampled the kitchen’s delightfully decadent tiramisu ($6), which featured lady fingers dipped in espresso, covered with mascarpone brandy cream and dusted with dark chocolate shavings. We also loved a dessert drink, chocolate divinity ($9), which expertly mixed Godiva chocolate vodka, Kahlua and chocolate gelato into a heavenly elixir.

Villa Dolce features an expansive cocktail, wine, spirits, martini and craft beer list that includes its popular “Gela-tini,” made with gelato and spirits. One of the most popular flavors, the strawberry sensation, is made with Malibu coconut and pineapple rum, Cointreau, and strawberry gelato. Like the divinity, it’s the perfect combination of drink and dessert.

The restaurant offers a quality dining experience in an atmosphere that is equally suitable for a date, a special occasion or just a fun night out with friends. The fact that it’s located in Middleton’s trendy downtown is a bonus.

Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.

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