Best Bets: Dino’s Ravioli 

There’s no beef in this tasty take on ravioli.

Dino's Grill owner Mario Grisanti and his dad, Rudy Grisanti, gave basically the same answer to my question: "Is Dino's the only Italian restaurant in Memphis that puts chicken and spinach in its ravioli instead of ground beef and cheese?"

"As far as I know, we're the only ones doing it," Mario says.

"To be honest, as far as I know we're the only ones that make a chicken ravioli," Rudy says.

click to enlarge Mario Grisanti and Dino’s ravioli
  • Mario Grisanti and Dino’s ravioli

"To my knowledge, that's the way we've always done it," Mario says. "Even going back to my great-grandfather Frank Benedetti at the State Cafe at Beale and Main. Everybody else's, it seems, is beef and cheese."

Dino's doesn't make beef raviolis. "It's not an option," Mario says.

That can surprise people. "I had a lady call me. She had a to-go order. About 30 minutes after she picked up her order, she called and said, 'I just want you to know everything was great, but the inside of my raviolis were green.' I just started laughing. 'It's chicken and spinach that makes it green.' She said, 'Okay. I feel so much better.'"

"We have a lot of people who come in and say, 'Well, we want beef ravioli,''' Rudy says. "I tell them, 'I'm sorry. Our ravioli has spinach and chicken in them. Try them.'"

The response is, "These are great. These are fantastic."

"It really is lighter, for one thing," Rudy says. "Since we make our own pasta for it, it makes a lighter dish because sometimes raviolis can be pretty heavy."

And, he says, "In a sense, it's better for you because it's less cholesterol and stuff like that. The chicken is really a better choice than trying to add a lot of beef to your diet."

They've made other raviolis, Rudy says. "I've made seafood raviolis, and I put a tarragon cream sauce on them. We've made salmon raviolis with saffron sauce. But, traditionally, when we make ravioli, it's always chicken and spinach."

"We used to make a cheese ravioli with parmesan, ricotta and eggs, and seasonings, but there was just no real call for it," Mario says. "It's labor-intensive to make. We're making probably 20 dozen a day. I don't have the time to make several different fillings and put them all together."

Asked how chicken ravioli came about, Rudy says, "I guess it was because beef was a lot more expensive during the Depression than chicken was. That's just his old recipe, and that's the way we've always made it.

"The main ingredient is the chicken, and then we add spinach to it," Rudy says. "The spinach naturally makes it greener. But he never really said why, and I never questioned him about it."

Benedetti added pork brains as a binder to the raviolis, but after he retired, Rudy began using eggs because he couldn't find decent pork brains.

Unless a customer orders marinara sauce, Dino's meat sauce includes ground beef, tomato sauce, water, garlic, Italian seasoning, onions, and celery, Mario says. "Marinara is the exact same thing minus the ground beef. And we add diced tomatoes."

They make ravioli every day, he says. "We've done a lot of frozen ravioli, lately. It's the exact same ravioli, just fried at a boil, with a side of meat sauce."

Frozen raviolis were very popular when the pandemic began, Mario says. "When all of this first started, we sold a lot of frozen raviolis because one, people can make their own sauce. A lot of people felt more comfortable cooking their own food at their house."

They're still popular. "We sell them year-round frozen. I had three dozen go out yesterday, and four dozen tomorrow."

Simplicity — in addition to flavor — might be one of the keys to the popularity of the food at Dino's Grill. "None of the stuff we make here is real fancy," Mario says. "Just good quality, simple, homemade stuff."

Note: Dino's still offers its all-you-can-eat spaghetti for $8.95 on Thursday nights.

Dino's Grill is at 645 N. McLean; 278-9127.

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