Pinetta’s European Restaurant

LSU alumnae who studied—or partied—in the 1960s and 1970s might remember the first run of Pinetta’s European Restaurant. The intimate eatery tucked away next to Cottonwood Books on Perkins Road is now under the care of Diane Baringer, who serves up the same Old World recipes for Italian, German and Turkish favorites that were first created by the restaurant’s original owners: the immigrant Bubola family, who arrived in the United States in the 1950s.

The atmosphere is dark and casual and evocative of a longstanding European tavern or wine bar, but the cuisine is upscale. Veal Parmigiana, Spaghetti and Meatballs—with a red sauce that takes three days to make—and Cannelloni are featured along with less-familiar fare like Musaca Potatoes, Schnitzel Holstein and Panzerotti.

Scroll down to find out what our secret diners thought of Pinetta’s.

Mr. Meat & Potatoes

My palate is limited, so I may be tough to please.

I’d recommend:

Polenta ($5.95). For the uninitiated, this is essentially a loaf of fried corn meal served on a plate of Pinetta’s own marinara sauce. Although fried, it’s surprisingly light, and the marinara sauce is seasoned to perfection. This is a well-portioned appetizer and absolutely delicious.

Spinach Ravioli ($11.95). This is one of Pinetta’s dishes that comes with a choice of alfredo, pesto or red sauces. I went the with alfredo sauce and was so impressed I couldn’t imagine trying the others. The combination of thick, creamy Alfredo sauce and the spinach filling makes for a tasty, truly delightful texture.

Tiramisu ($5.95). This common Italian dessert is crafted with uncommon grace at Pinetta’s. Though the ladyfingers are typically known for being soaked in espresso, at Pinetta’s the coffee flavor is not overbearing; instead, it perfectly balances the sweetness of the mascarpone and cocoa.

Not my taste:

Chicken alla Cacciatora ($12.25). To my eye, the chicken looked great; it was tender, and the meat fell right off the bone after being twice-baked in a pan of thick marinara sauce. But as a whole, this dish was a bit bland to me, and it lacked overall flavor and seasoning. The presentation was very nice, especially as the waitress brought out the steaming chicken in a pan and prepared the plate in front of me. Even so, I’d pass on this choice and go for the lasagna instead.

The bottom line:

My dining experience at Pinetta’s was a pleasant one, though it is one of the darkest restaurants I’ve ever visited. It has a European atmosphere, with Italian classical music playing. The prices are modest, the service is great, and the food—for the most part—is very tasty.

Italian Stallion

Red sauce, good. Gravy, better.

I’d recommend:

Lasagna ($11.50). Probably Pinetta’s most famous offering, this dish is served bubbling hot in a small cast-iron skillet. When I crave lasagna, this is the one that pops into my head, and I rarely eat anything else at Pinetta’s. Its pull is so great that I walked into the restaurant knowing I needed to order outside my comfort zone for this review—but it still took about three minutes to talk myself into not ordering the lasagna.

Thuringen Bratwurst ($14.25). I’m not sure how traditional a bratwurst with red sauce is, but Pinetta’s execution results in a deceptively complex offering that tastes delicious. Topped with grilled onions and served with riced potatoes and sauerkraut, the sausage has a subtle taste against the bolder red sauce that makes a flavor combination I have not often encountered. If you’re feeling a pull to the German side of the menu, this dish won’t disappoint.

Not my taste:

Eggplant Appetizer ($5.25). In a cadre of solid appetizers, this one falls short. Neither the flavor or the textures really work in this combination of olive salad wrapped in a slice of roasted eggplant and topped with cheese. Opt for the panzerotti or the polenta appetizer instead.

The bottom line:

Pinetta’s is an eclectic little restaurant with great ambiance and some fine food—including an unforgettable lasagna. Couple that with a very reasonably priced wine list—most bottles are between $20 and $30—and you aren’t going to break the bank to enjoy one of Baton Rouge’s oldest dining traditions. The menu is fairly cryptic; no descriptions accompany the items listed, so don’t be afraid to ask your server for some guidance if you are stumped.

The Catcher and the Fry

There’s nothing better than fresh Louisiana seafood.

I’d recommend:

Fish of the Day ($21.95): This fresh Gulf fish is breaded and pan-fried to light, crispy perfection, but the real stunner is the spicy and creamy shrimp Creole poured on top. It’s not too heavy, but the kick definitely lets you know it is there. Served with succulent rice and a perfectly cooked vegetable medley, this is so good you’ll never order a run-of-the-mill catfish topped with étouffée again.

Homemade Minestrone ($4.95). This is the best minestrone I have had, a large warm bowl filled with savory seasonal vegetables and a basil-infused broth that avoids relying on a one-note run-of-the-mill tomato base. This soup grabs hold of the tongue and never lets go.

Not my taste:

Polenta ($5.95). This appetizer is not bad, and the crisped cornmeal cakes have a great texture. But the heavy marinara-style sauce is too salty and overpowering. I would have preferred something a little sweeter and lighter to start my meal.

The bottom line:

Leaving a lunch at Pinetta’s is like walking out of a movie—a really delicious movie. It’s a little dark in there, but it’s worth it. It may not look like much on the outside, but the dimly lit atmosphere transports the diner to a family-run tavern in the Italian countryside. Details are important here, and each dish feels like it’s crafted carefully. I had heard stories of long waits, but our waitress was attentive and fun, and our food arrived right on time.