Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Atmosphere: Dimly lit, casual with pleasant music.
Price Range: Appetizers: $1.25 to $3.25; also, half orders of main course pasta dishes may be ordered for half price. Main courses: $5.75 for fettuccine Alfredo to $9.25 for scampi. Desserts: $1.95.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa, Diners Club
Special facilities: Highchairs and booster seats; easy access for the handicapped.
For months our friends had been raving about their favorite Italian find -- where fresh homemade pastas were served with good sauces, inexpensively and with a friendly touch.
On a recent Friday evening we succumbed and marched with our friends and 2-year-old daughter through the streets and quaint shops of Old Town Alexandria to the Verona.
As we wandered up King Street, we made a wrong turn and instead of entering the restaurant on the left side, as we were told to do, we took the right door and walked upstairs to a rather slinky discotheque, certainly not appropriate for our 2-year-old or a 6-, 8-, 10- or 12-year-old for that matter.
The first piece of advice is enter the Verona from the left. Afterward, you are delightfully on your own.
The Verona's atmosphere is a tasteful melange of white and chocolate-brown with hanging plants set against round, oblong or square tables. The restaurant is rather large, and sadly, hardly filled to capacity.
Once we were seated, a French hostess brought a booster chair for our daughter and water in a plastic cup instead of our long glasses.We soon learned she was the mother of a 2-year-old herself and knew what disasters our well-disciplined child might work upon an adult dining room.
Close to our table was a small stage where a charming fellow from El Salvador played the guitar and sang folksongs, mostly in Spanish. Occasionally he asked for requests -- our 2-year-old wanted encores of "ABC" and "Row, row, row your boat" -- not exactly a musical inspiration.
And now, for the food: It was generally good, sometimes very good and, for the quality, relatively inexpensive.
The garlic bread, crusty with parsley and butter, was a good half loaf and cost only 50 cents. The Caesar salad for two at $4.50 was romaine lettuce, with the classic Parmesan cheese, anchovies, eggs and croutons. It was good but the seasoning did not seem strong enough.
The mozzarella fried cheese with garlic and anchovy sauce at $2.95 was two slices of cheese, delightfully crusty on the outside and creamily soft on the inside.
The next course, homemade pasta, proved to be the best rendering of the Verona. We tried half portions of four different ones, each under $3. The fettuccine Alfredo with cream and cheese was rich and delicious -- not at all the watered-down version that has become prevalent. The ferruccine veronese with chicken, mushrooms, tomato and cream also was heavenly, but it could have used more garlic. The linguine with white clam sauce was tasty, but not on a par with the other two.
The most unusual pasta dish, the chef's recommendation, was the cannelloni alla fiorentina. Rolled pasta crepes stuffed with veal and creamed spinach were covered with a bechamel sauce and smothered with tomato sauce. It was the kind of sauce you kept sopping up with bread wishing it would not end. Our daughter equalled us in our zeal for all these sauces and the pasta generally.
The meat courses were not nearly as memorable as the pasta, although our child consumed almost a whole portion of the very thinly pounded veal marsala. The shrimp scampi and the scallops cooked in tomato and onion sauce were overcooked and rather tough. However, the Italian sausages tasting of anise and served on a bed of creamed spinach were quite wonderful.
Forget desserts at the Verona. Except for the chocolate mousse cake, which our daughter hoarded for herself -- "is mine" -- with fairly good reason as it was rich and chocolatey, the two other homemade desserts we tasted -- the lemon pudding and the chocolate mousse at $1.95 each -- were much too sweet.
The expresso provided an excellent finale to a very good, somewhat uneven meal. We could have had cappuccino at $1.50. We'll try it next time.
We finished our meal at 10 p.m. The time had gone by quickly for all of us, including our small child who sat quietly at the Verona, mesmerized by the music and satisfied by her food.
Now that we know the Verona -- its terrific service, its superb homemade pasta and its weak points -- we surely shall return. Remember, the guitarist plays from Wednesday through Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30.