Merkel hits trifecta with Cello Ristorante in downtown Howell

Share this:
Owner/chef Adam Merkel’s new Italian restaurant, Cello Ristorante, is open for business in downtown Howell. PHOTO BY AILEEN WINGBLAD

At last, Adam Merkel now has his trifecta in downtown Howell — and people have a new place to enjoy an Italian dining experience.

Cello Ristorante, Merkel’s third restaurant in the city, officially debuted March 23 following a “soft opening” a week earlier.

“It’s designed to be fun and friendly, and it definitely has exceeded my expectations,” said Merkel, grinning. “It’s better than I had hoped for.”

Cook Cecilia Bright shows off a bowl of house-made ricotta cheese. PHOTO BY AILEEN WINGBLAD

He created the new eatery in the refreshed and refurbished space that formerly was home to his Diamonds Steak and Seafood. Diamonds reopened in its new spot about a block west on East Grand River Avenue last month.

At Cello, the concept is a casual, welcoming atmosphere where people can feel comfortable making their way through the a la carte menu at their own pace, choosing appetizers, salads, main courses, side dishes and beverages as the mood — or temptation — hits. And sharing selections at the table with family and friends is encouraged.

“It’s about experiencing it the way you want to,” Merkel said. “There are no rules at Cello.”

Getting Cello’s menu “just right” was an effort two years in the making, with all dishes created in genuine Italian style, from scratch daily.

“Being true to the authenticity, it’s No. 1 here,” Merkel said. “We had to make sure nothing was bland. We had to be blown away so our customers would be, too.”

Adam Merkel explains how Cello’s pasta is made fresh in this pasta room; customers can watch the process through a window. PHOTO BY AILEEN WINGBLAD

Merkel’s inspiration for this latest venture came from the traditional Italian Sunday dinners he enjoyed in his great-grandmother’s basement.

“Everyone would come. Family would come, neighbors would come and we’d all pass around the dishes … I’m looking to have that same thing — that heart — here,” he said. “I want to create that experience where everyone is engaged, and everyone is immersed with this great Italian food.”

Great-grandma was also the inspiration for Rosie’s Baked Ziti, one of his pasta dishes that he named after her.

The menu will change seasonally and “offer different takes on related dishes,” Merkel said. Yet already, he said, some selections, such as Lamb Bolognese and Chicken Limoncello, show promise of being top favorites.

“And our Bucatini Carbonara, it’s the best I’ve eaten in my life,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Merkel is also quite pleased with the Limoncello itself: the lemon-infused liqueur is made in-house, served as drink and used in some dishes and desserts. And the wine list? All Italian — and it required a taste-testing of some 250 wines to settle on about two dozen of the best. Customers can also choose from a variety of specially crafted Italian cocktails, as well as domestic and specialty beers.

With Cello, along with the recently-opened new Diamonds and the Silver Pig, Merkel can now pause — though just for a moment — to take it all in.

“It feels surreal … seeing all the ideas and things come to life,” he said. “And as much fun and exciting it has been, it won’t be bad to put the construction hat down and focus on making this all better and better.

“And it’s really extraordinary having three restaurants in a fine place like downtown Howell.”

Cello Ristorante is at 209 E. Grand River Ave., across from the Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Monday – Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday; 2-11 p.m. Saturday; and 2-10 p.m. Sunday. Walk-in only, no reservations accepted. Phone (517) 548-7500.