If there ever was a more perfect autumn day to spend discovering (or rediscovering) Essex County, this weekend was it.

Friday night we made the short jaunt out to Leamington to check out a restaurant that we’ve had been wanting to try for a while now: Sale e Pepe on Erie Street in downtown Leamington. When we first entered the doors, the aromas were so incredibly rich making me excited to sit down and order. The restaurant itself feels intimate, without being crowded or too small. Alfie, our server was knowledgeable about the entire menu and provided good recommendations.

Arancini, risotto croquettes with mozzarella, breaded  and served in a tomato and basil sauce, served at Sale e Pepe in Leamington, Ontario

For appetizers we shared the Arancini, Risotto croquettes with mozzarella, breaded and served in a tomato and basil sauce, and the Rollini di Melenzane which is fried eggplant in a basil tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The Arancini were as close to my mom’s as I’ve ever eaten so far. Those are some pretty big words and I don’t use them loosely. They were cooked perfectly as the cheese within was actually melted and not left in chunks. The tomato basil sauce was simple yet complimentary to the Arancini.

The Sale e Pepe Salad, mixed greens tossed with grilled pineapple, goat cheese and strawberry vinaigrette and toasted almonds, served up at Sale e Pepe in Leamington, Ontario

We also ordered a Sale e Pepe Salad, a unique creation from owner Lucio Galeano. It consists of a large serving of mixed greens tossed with grilled pineapple, goat cheese and strawberry vinaigrette and toasted almonds. It had a smoky taste, which Lucio alluded was a mixture between the grilled pineapple and his secret dressing. The serving was definitely shareable between 2 people.

While that may have seemed like enough of a meal for most folks, Jillian and I usually take it to the next level.

The Campagnolo Risotto from Sale e Pepe in Leamington, Ontario, in the forefront. Pollo Parmegiano in the back.

The two main courses we ordered were the traditional Pollo Parmigiana, breaded chicken breast in their homemade tomato sauce baked with mozzarella cheese, and the Risotto Campagnolo, risotto served with grilled chicken breast, pancetta and mushrooms, topped with parmesan shavings.

The seasonal vegetables that came alongside the Pollo Parm were outstanding. Jill said they warmed her up on a cool fall night. They tasted fresh, not prepackaged. Always a plus in my books.

I’m always a sucker for Risotto. This dish was creamy with a sweet hint from the onions. The cubes of pancetta and slices of grilled chicken were a nice touch. A very well made dish that is very filling.

Sale e Pepe server, Alfie, provides Jillian with some fresh ground pepper.

The service for the evening was top notch without feeling overbearing. Alfie was very knowledgeable not just with the products served in the restaurant, but also with his trade. He even at one point apologized for serving Jillian on her left side as he knew traditional serving should have been from her right. In all fairness, my camera bag was on the floor blocking him from doing so.

After dinner Lucio sat down with us and we started getting into stories of his schooling in London, England for International Business. As part of his schooling he was sent overseas to Boston to put his knowledge to practice in the work environment, but, he just couldn’t let go of his passion for food. After every shift in the office, he would head over to a local restaurant where he would showcase his passion in the kitchen of a Boston restaurant. Realizing that he wouldn’t be happy without having food as an important part of his life he eventually left the business world and made his way to Windsor-Essex.

Based on the meal we had, I sure am happy with the decision he made.