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Count Maggiano's Little Italy among the Wauwatosa restaurants where you can dine alfresco.

The Mayfair restaurant opened its outdoor seating area May 23, just in time for summer.

'We've always had a patio,' said Assistant General Manager Jeff Gerber. 'Most people don't know it's there. It's pretty secluded.'

The patio is surrounded by shrubs, so diners have privacy and are shielded from the mall's parking lot noise, he said; it's been a part of the landscape since Maggiano's opened in Wauwatosa 13 years ago.

The background

The first Maggiano's Little Italy opened in 1991 in Chicago, Gerber said.

'We're 25 years old this year as a company,' he said.

Today, Maggiano's has 51 restaurants across the country — 'just about in every state' — with three each in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Besides the restaurant and full-service bar, Maggiano's also caters and has banquet halls. 'We thrive on pharmaceutical, medical events, and bridal showers and rehearsal dinners.'

The menu

But the restaurant, with seating for about 350, is, as Gerber said, Maggiano's 'bread and butter,' and Italian fare its mainstay.

You'll find all the old favorites — spaghetti and meatballs, chicken fettucine, chicken Marsala and lasagna.

But there's also the chef's country-style pasta, a hand-twisted pasta with chicken and ricotta cheese meatball, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, with a garlic and white wine sauce — as well as steaks and seafood entrees.

Gerber said the menu has changed to reflect the times. 'We introduced a lighter-take menu about two years ago as people became more and more health-conscious,' he said.

For the budget-conscious, there are family-style menu options and their On the House Classic Pasta.

'You buy one and our chef will send you home with a free pasta,' said Gerber. It's reflective of the days when you couldn't leave grandma's after dinner without taking home seconds.

The Tables

The decor is also reflective of an earlier time. Think of the Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra Rat Pack era.

'It's kind of the pre-World War II Little Italy with the dark wood and checkered tablecloths,' Gerber said. 'Some of it reminds me of my grandma's house, with the old pictures.'

There is table and booth seating, and plenty of seating at the bar.

Speaking of the bar, Gerber said Maggiano's signature cocktail is peach Bellini, a blended peach beverage with sparkling wine.

A favorite appetizer, he said, is crispy zucchini, and for dessert, tiramisu, of course.

When he dines there, Gerber said he'll order spaghetti and meatballs, 'when he can't decide.'

His favorite though, is the chicken parmesan from the lighter-take menu.

JUST THE FACTS

WEBSITE:www.maggianos.com

ADDRESS: Mayfair, 2500 N. Mayfair Road, Wauwatosa

RESERVATIONS: 414-978-1000

CARRYOUT: 414-978-1010

BANQUETS: 414-978-1020

FARE: Extensive lunch, dinner and carry-out menu that includes gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, and classic Italian fare

RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended, especially on weekends and holidays

PRICE RANGE: $10.95 for a flatbread, $13.95 for spaghetti to $46.95 for a 16-ounce prime New York steak; family-style dining is $32.50 per person for dinner and includes one appetizers, one salad, two pastas, two entrees and two desserts; and Marco's Meal For Two, which include appetizer or flatbread and two side salads, two classic pastas and (two to take home) and one dessert is $42.95.

HOURS: Sunday through Thursday, 11:15 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday through Saturday 11:15 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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