It’s hard to drive for more than 5 minutes in Elkhart without passing a local Italian restaurant or pizza joint.
There are about a dozen of them, spread throughout town, each serving their own versions of classic Italian dishes like spaghetti and lasagna.
In the 5 years since I moved to Elkhart, I’ve dined at almost every single one at least once, but there are still a few I need to cross off my list. When I saw that Rulli’s was on the Elkhart Dining Days list for 2016, I figured this was a good time to finally try it.
My fiancé and I went to the restaurant on C.R. 17 for an early Sunday dinner. I was imagining classic Italian decor, so I was surprised to see TVs on the wall when we walked in: two in front of the bar and two in opposite corners in the main dining area of the restaurant, all playing NFL games. Besides that, the restaurant had a lot of classic decorations I’ve seen in other local Italian spots: wine-colored walls, black-and-white pictures in gold frames, plastic vines twisting around an arch near the front door, a poster from “The Godfather” movie on the wall. Rulli’s is Elkhart’s Italian sports bar — a perfect place to dine on football Sunday.
The bar seats were occupied by a group of men enjoying food, drinks and the games. Otherwise, we were the only people in the restaurant. I wasn’t surprised, given that we were there mid-afternoon on a Sunday.
Our waitress greeted us with a large basket of bread and a plate of olive oil and seasonings. Honestly, all restaurants should do this. It’s so great.
We started dinner by sharing the crostinis appetizer. The menu describes this as warm Gruyere cheese, bacon and caramelized onion dip served with house-made crostinis. We were a little surprised at how many onions there were in the dip — it was honestly overwhelming. The bacon pieces were great, but the dip needed to have more cheese and less onion. The crostinis, however, were soft and crusty and delightfully toasted. I would have eaten all of them, but I wanted to save room for the rest of our food.
The dinner specials came with a choice of soup or salad. We chose the salad with house dressing. The large bowl held heaping servings of several different kind of veggies. The dressing was a sweet oil-based Italian that was phenomenal. I would love to buy a bottle of that dressing to enjoy at home.
For our entrees, we ordered the cajun shrimp alfredo and the southern Italian combination, which is lasagna, a breaded chicken breast stuffed with cheese and broccoli, tortellini filled with cheese and spaghetti with either alfredo or marinara sauce. We ordered it with the alfredo sauce, but the kitchen staff saved us from what would have been a terrible mistake when they put marinara sauce on it instead. The dish is served all on one plate and already had a lot of tomato sauce, so the alfredo would have been odd.
The lasagna had perfect ratios of cheese-sauce-noodles-sausage. Its classic Italian flavor was fantastic, and this was large enough to be a filling meal on its own.
The stuffed chicken breast paired with the spaghetti and marinara sauce was also practically its own meal. We couldn’t finish it all. Anyone who orders this should either plan on eating only this for the entire day or expect to bring home plenty of leftovers.
With the cajun shrimp alfredo, I was really happy that there were a lot of smaller shrimp. I know most people prefer the jumbo shrimp (and normally I do too), but I like to get several bites of the seafood with the noodles. The shrimp was cooked perfectly too — they were just as crunchy and flavorful as jumbo shrimp. The dish also had thin-sliced tomatoes cut into half-moons, which added freshness. It was not very spicy so the cajun seasoning really stood out.
To people who are new to Elkhart, it might seem like our small town has too many Italian restaurants. As I visit them, I’ve learned that they each have a unique quality that make them stand out. For Rulli’s, it’s the Italian sports bar mood. It’s a cozy place to enjoy a relaxing Sunday meal during football season.
Elkhart Dining Days features dining specials at 11 restaurants through Saturday, Oct. 29. Check out the menus online now.