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The phone calls become more frequent on Wednesdays.

That's the day regular patrons of Caffe Italia call owner Mauro Bergo to learn his Friday night menu.

Last week it was pesto lasagna, a delicious homemade pasta dish featuring potatoes, green beans, parmesan reggiano, mozzarella and a besciamella (white) sauce.

Open since the spring of 2004, Caffe Italia is a popular gathering place in south Lincoln, where diners congregate for wine, coffee, paninis and/or conversation.

About three years ago, Bergo and his wife, Valerie, began looking for a way to complement their steady daytime business.

They decided to provide a homecooked Italian meal on Friday nights. Since their kitchen is small, they offer just one entree. It is accompanied with a side salad and bread.

The dish is different each week. They alternate between meat and vegetarian entrees, and dishes range from pastas to meatballs to seafood.

"We try to make everybody happy," Bergo said.

An interesting thing happened. Caffe Italia's once-a-week, one-entree meals have become the cool thing to do. It helps that the homemade dishes are outstanding and, at $12.95 each, reasonably priced.

Patrons often arrive 20 to 30 minutes before service begins to claim tables, which are at a premium in the small restaurant that seats around 40.

Caffe Italia does not accept reservations. Dinner is first come, first served. Latecomers - those arriving at 6:30 p.m. - wait patiently for tables to open up.

Those who arrive early start with one of the three to four appetizers that are available each week.

My party enjoyed an anti-pasta plate ($9), which featured three meats (sopressata, hard salami, capicolla), two cheeses (provolone picante and parmesan reggiano) and red grapes. This is also a good time to enjoy one of Caffe Italia's Italian wines or beers.

The restaurant also features a handful of desserts ($4 each), including tiramisu, which is available each week, and a special dessert to complement the meal. Last Friday, Bergo made a rich chocolate torte with an apricot glaze.

I can see why Caffe Italia's meals have become such a hit. The Bergos have made it all about the dining experience. The Friday evenings offer an opportunity to enjoy great food with friends and family.

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com.

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