As a teenager, Paparazzi was the restaurant of choice for birthday dinners with my family. Over the years, the cozy neighborhood restaurant fell off my dining roster. Additions to Peoria’s short list of Italian restaurants turned my head, and lack of advertising ensured Paparazzi’s absence from my list of dinner possibilities.
Paparazzi is one of those rare restaurants able to stay busy without advertising, relying solely on word-of-mouth. Tucked away off Prospect in Peoria Heights, the small storefront is invisible to anyone not venturing off the Heights’ main road. I don’t recall ever having seen an ad or commercial for the place, and I’m frequently surprised by Peoria natives who have never heard of Paparazzi, much less visited.
This lack of general awareness didn’t stop the place from becoming busy at the early hour of 5:30 on a Wednesday night. My party needed to eat early that night, and we assumed we’d be the first ones there and nearly have the place to ourselves. Neither was the case. We were among the first three or four groups to be seated by the somewhat brusque hostess, and the restaurant began filling up as we ate.
Our group ordered a glass of house Pinot Grigio and a Chardonnay (only $4 each), bottled beers (Peroni and Heineken), and a Pellegrino mineral water. All were delivered quickly, and our friendly server checked back a couple of times as we read the menu and looked at the celebrity photos and prints on the walls. We ordered garlic bread for the table; Paparazzi doesn’t offer the complimentary bread, olive oil, and Parmesan combo that’s standard at most Peoria-area Italian restaurants. It is offered at the same price as the garlic bread ($4).
The garlic bread is among the best I’ve tasted. Cut into small pieces, it was perfectly seasoned and baked. Paparazzi’s bread lacks the artificial garlic flavor found at some restaurants, and is the ideal size for nibbling before and during dinner. Our table ordered a la carte house and Caesar salads, all of which were deemed fresh and tasty.
Two of us opted for pasta with Paparazzi sauce, a mouth-watering combination of cream, Parmesan, and pesto. I chose the spinach fettuccine, and was pleased with my decision. Even with the distinctive cream-and-basil-infused flavor of the Paparazzi sauce, the taste of spinach came through. I found the entree perfectly sized; served on a deceivingly small-looking plate, it’s a filling portion, but not overwhelming.
Although the chef topped the dish with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan, I did add more to suit my taste. Gnocchi, cappellini, and plain fettuccine are also available, and pasta sauces include bolognese, carbonara, clam, gorgonzola with cream, garlic with olive oil and mushrooms, and tomato with sausage and peppers.
The other guest who selected the Paparazzi sauce went for the cheese-filled tortellini and proclaimed it excellent. A meat-filled version is available as well. The linguine with pesto was described as delicious, and the sauce looked delectable. Paparazzi does an excellent job at making a subtle pasta sauce that isn’t drowning in butter, over-salted, or too oily. The meat lover in our group ordered the Veal Parmesan, and the closed eyes and approving “mmm” at the first bite told me all I needed to know about that dish.
None of us opted for dessert, but one of the diners at my table vouched for the yumminess of the chocolate mousse she’d tried on a previous visit. The rum cake is a good choice as well. If you love Northern Italian cuisine, and appreciate excellent service in a homey atmosphere, put Paparazzi on your culinary to-do list.
Paparazzi Ristorante Italiano
4315 Voss Avenue
Peoria Heights, IL 61616
Open 5:30pm Tuesday through Saturday