When chef Enton Mehillaj bought the former Pho 2000 restaurant on Worcester’s West Side, one of the first things he did was shut down the walk-in freezer. Ask him. He’ll show you. It’s dry storage now.
The term “fresh” has become cliche. But at Livia’s Dish, a small Italian/Mediterranean restaurant on Main Street near the Leicester border, fresh means baking their own bread for the paninis. It means there’s no microwave — although they’ll be happy to pour you a fresh cup of coffee if yours is getting cold. And it means pulling the plug on the walk-in and buying a small freezer to store ice cream.
A family operation, this little hidden gem is chef Mahillaj’s dream come true. His wife, Oriola, runs things out front while Mahillaj and crew keep the kitchen humming. He’s getting to do things his way now, after working in kitchens in Albania and then locally at Crowne Plaza, the Marriott and others. And, it’s working. Deliciously.
“We thought there was a need for a great breakfast/lunch place on the West Side,” Mahillaj said. Customers seem to agree.
Don’t let the size or location of the restaurant fool you. The Albanian-born Mahillaj knows his craft. In the two years since it’s opened, Livia’s Dish has become a favorite haunt for local foodies, primarily for the restaurant’s omelets at breakfast and paninis at lunchtime. But the menu runs far deeper than that. Like the stuffed pancakes, stuffed with apples and mascapone cheese.
A typical lunch might include the “chef’s panini,” a pressed sandwich with chipotle sauce, spinach, tomato, chicken cutlet and fresh mozzarella.
“I put it on the special and it was so popular I had to put it on the regular menu,” Mahillaj said.
And, don’t forget the french fries. Mahillaj is emphatic on this point. It’s a source of pride.
“The french fries are to die for,” Majillaj says. “We peel them, we cut them, we let them soak in water just a little bit and then we fry them. There’s no double frying. A lot of people say hand cut fries but they blanch them in oil, take them out and put them back in oil again. We don’t do that.”
The food is Italian/Mediterranean, but there are a lot of influences. Mahjillaj went to cooking school in Albania before coming to the U.S. with his family in 1996 and has connections in Greece and Italy. Wednesday is $5 burger night. But these aren’t your typical burgers. They’ve got a little Mediterranean twist. Take the feta burger with feta cheese, olive tapenade, grilled tomato and Tzatziki sauce, a Greek sauce made with yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt and olive oil. In fact, most dishes at Livia’s seem to have their own little twist, like the fettuccini alfredo. It’s tossed with parmesan, parsley and butter, but then is topped with asparagus and a poached egg.
If the dishes sound terrific, don’t just take it on description. Mahillaj said outstanding reviews from customers on Yelp have helped spur business since opening two years ago. And for any good chef, that’s the real reward. “It’s a lot of hours, it’s a lot of hard work, but I just love doing this,” Mahillaj says.
Livia’s Dish is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday’s from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Additionally, they’re open for dinner Wednesday’s and Thursday’s from 4 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.