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A server brings meals to, from left, Cathy Roth of Red Lion, Jerry Axe of Winterstown, and Linda Axe of Winterstown at Moonlight Café in Dover.

Vito Renda's hands are always busy.

They maneuver pots and pans - some small, some large - across the burners in his kitchen at the Moonlight Café. They grip the tongs as he swirls sauces, spices, meat and pasta together. They wrap around the knife as he cuts vegetables.

Yes, Renda works with his hands.

But he cooks with his heart.

"You've got to have your heart in it," he said of running a restaurant. "It's stressful work. It's long hours. If you don't love it, you should get out."

Renda's dishes, from the butternut squash ravioli to the zupa de pesce, are the perfect meal to build a great date night around.

But first you have to find the Moonlight Café. It's on Carlisle Road in Dover, which makes it seem easy enough to find. But if you're not careful, you'll drive past the restaurant. It is nestled back from the road in a building that looks like it could have been a used car dealership in another life.

Once you're there, your date night is sure to be great.

One of the best meals on the menu is the crab cakes. The crab meat is mixed with apple slices. At first, the idea of a dinner that was part crab cake, part apple fritter, seemed a bit odd. Then I tasted it. Renda's hands had indeed put together the perfect meal.

The Moonlight Café menu offers a variety of items. You can get something as simple as a panini or something that might take more time, such as chicken marsala.

Either route you go, your food will be delicious.

While you wait for your dinner to arrive, discuss your day while enjoying some of the freshly made rolls. Take in the cozy restaurant.

The din of the conversations at the tables around you will make you feel like you're at home with extended family. But the noise won't drown out your discussions.

The café doesn't serve alcohol, but you can bring your own wine to the table. If you're not into wine, the restaurant offers tea, soda and coffee.

When you wait for your meal to arrive, watch Renda. See if you can catch the blur that is his hands.

Ask him about his native Sicily and what brought him to America in 1963.

"Better living," he'll tell you. "It's the land of opportunity."

Then he'll go back to the sauces in the pan and the meats on the stove. You'll notice the hint of a smile on his lips as those hands shuffle spices onto a plate.

So, yes, when your meal is done you'll understand how Renda works with his hands and cooks with his heart.

As you finish your meal, you'll realize how having a meal cooked with so much heart can make a date night perfect.

So savor those final bites and be grateful you found the small café hidden just off of the road in Dover.

- Patrick Abdalla, FlipSide staff

If you go

WHAT: Moonlight Café

WHERE: 4140 Carlisle Road, Dover

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, closed Sundays and Mondays

CUISINE: Italian




ACCEPTS: Cash only


DETAILS: Call 717-292-5643

Keep it going

Looking to extend your night out? Consider these:

Sweet finish

THE SPOT: Bill Mack's Ice Cream

WHAT IS IT: Ice-cream parlor and restaurant

WHERE: 3890 Carlisle Road, Dover Township

HOURS: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

DETAILS: Call 717-292-1931

INSIDER TIP: What better way to end a great meal than with some delicious ice cream? So head south from the Moonlight Café to Bill Mack's Ice Cream Parlor. It's the perfect spot for a sweet ending to your date.

TRY THIS: Who doesn't love butter pecan?

Bottle of red, white

THE SPOT: Your local wine store

INSIDER TIP: Billy Joel said it best, "A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite. I'll meet you any time you want in our Italian restaurant." So buy a bottle of wine before you head to the café. Pick up your favorite or try something new to go with your meal.