Something as simple as salad dressing rarely gets much attention. At Biagio's Italian Restaurant, the simple white sauce steals the show.
The family-owned and operated Lake Forest institution has served hearty and affordable Italian fare for decades.
Sandwiched into a strip of shops at 24301 Muirlands Blvd., a recent visit to the restaurant for a late-night meal felt like eating at home.
Waitstaff weren't necessarily solicitous, but kindly allowed us to linger over a dessert plate of decadent cream puffs long after closing time.
My visit was on Valentine's Day, prompted by a special menu the restaurant came up with for the holiday.
For $40, dining couples were served house salad, an appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, pasta, cheese pizza, dessert and a bottle of wine or champagne.
When the salad arrived, dressed in the restaurant's creamy, garlic house dressing, I remembered why Biagio's is one of my favorite eateries in town.
The dressing looks like your basic ranch, but enlivens whatever it dresses with a sinful swath of pungent garlic heaven.
And from firsthand experience, I know that it is good for more than topping lettuce leaves. Extra Biagio's dressing (if you're lucky enough to end up with some) is good for dipping pizza, or even livening up some pasta.
The hearty portions meant that I ended up with the pizza that we weren't able to finish for lunchtime the following day.
If you don't visit on a night when Biagio's is offering a special menu, printable coupons available on the restaurant's website can make the meal even more affordable.
Even without, you can get a large pizza with four toppings for about $20, a bottle of wine for $15 and (if you're taking your meal to go), a pint of house dressing for $5.
If you dine in, check what local cause the restaurant is supporting. It recently wrapped up a month-long fundraiser for Santiago Elementary School and is currently donating a portion of dine-in proceeds to the family of Jimmy Pequeno, a Lake Forest teen severely injured in a car crash last summer.
But whatever you do, don't forget to request a side of house dressing. This is one case where garlic breath is worth it.