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Mystery Diner: The sauce makes the meal at Maria's Little Italy in Sycamore

The key to any Italian restaurant is going to be the sauce, the main element featured on nearly every item. And Maria’s Little Italy in Sycamore has a unique marinara sauce that ties together the dishes in fantastic fashion.

Our best guess at the distinctive taste is roasted pepper. It’s not spicy at all, but makes each dish burst with flavor not found in most store-bought or restaurant sauces.

The sauce was the star of the show on the ravioli, an average-size serving for $13.25. All pastas at the restaurant come with a choice of six sauces, but being first-time diners there, we kept it simple and stuck with the marinara.

The ravioli were jumbo-size, and the cheese inside was creamy, with ricotta and spices that didn’t overwhelm the sauce – kind of the point of ravioli.

The sauce on the pizza we were pretty sure was the same one used on the other dishes. The sausage bursting with flavor complemented the sauce well. The mozzarella was also wonderfully flavorful, and at $9.95 (plus $1.10 per topping), the pizza managed the double win of tasting great and being a good value.

One dish where the sauce didn’t play a major role was the meatball sub. The meatballs had a powerful, unique flavor that overpowered even the sauce. The mozzarella, while standing on its own on the pizza, got a little lost as well. Our best guess at the meatball flavor was fennel.

Another plus for the sub ($12.95) was the quality of the bread. For as loaded as the sandwich was, the bread held together remarkably well. The menu accurately describes the meatballs as bursting with flavor.

The one main dish we ordered that did not feature the sauce was the Caprese panini ($10.95). The solid sandwich on a nicely prepared ciabatta bun got kicked up to excellent thanks to the high quality balsamic it incorporated. The thick, sweet balsamic – clearly not a budget brand – tied together the tomato, basil and mozzarella very nicely.

We also got a pair of appetizers to share, fried dough bites and the combination platter of fried mushrooms, mozzarella sticks and zucchini – the mushrooms some of the biggest you’ll see. Their take on the fried dough was a crispy, golden-brown rectangle that, no surprise, paired exceptionally well with the provided dipping sauce.

Each main dish came with an iceberg lettuce side salad and a piece of bread great for sopping up the extra sauce.

Maria’s Little Italy in Sycamore is a great restaurant serving up its own distinctive take on tastes. It’s definitely worth a visit the next time you’re in the mood for Italian and don’t want to slave over a sauce all day.

• The Mystery Diner is a Daily Chronicle employee who reports on their experience at local restaurants. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff when ordering or picking up the food. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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