Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; Saturdays 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; closed Sundays. Atmosphere: Relaxed, booth environment. Price range: Pasta from $2.95, subs from $1.95, home-baked varieties $4.25. Pizza from $3. Other entrees in the $5 range. Reservations: Advisable for weekends. Credit cards: Master, Visa and Diners. Special facilities: All items available for carry-out. One high chair. Telephone books. Accessible entrance. Parking.
I took one look at the five hungry faces and then a quick look at the menu. We were a perfect match.
What could be better than a complete Italian menu with the highest priced entree under $6? That does not include the New York steak, but we had no intention of ordering a steak where there was homemade pasta.
At the Italian Cafe nobody has spent a lot of time worrying about decorations. Yet we have been spared the red-checked cliches in favor of a dark table cloths. Time has been spent on the food. After all, that is why all the tables were filled when we arrived early one cold, blustery Saturday evening.
The waitress spotted the four children and quickly asked about drink orders. Smart lady. She was friendly and attentive all evening.
We began with sodas, beers and garlic bread (65 cents for a three slice order). Most of the children retreated behind their sodas and reached for the plain bread and butter. For the hearty appetites it was the beginning of a wonderfully seasoned dream filled with garlic.
Our children's sleep-over guests were not very daring or brave. They were satisfied to share a pizza and giggle with their friends. The cafe is a perfect place for both quiet talk and happy chatter, where no one worries about another's tonal impact.
Our children each had a cup of minestrone (75 cents) and were pleased with the light seasoning. My husband, on the other hand, felt the broth was a little thin, but the large amount of vegetables made it a winter warmer. Minestrone is a true catch-all pot; that night's soup contained long spaghetti noodles!
Although the children were pleased with the large mushroom and-plain pizza they shared, I felt it was not of the same caliber as what followed. Neither crust nor topping was exceptional, and the canned mushrooms were a surprise in an meal of otherwise fresh foods.
Although the linguine with garlic and olive ($2.95) is not homemade, it is a wonderful platter steaming with spices. Our son also ordered a side dish of meat balls, which were large and pleasantly light, with the tang of Italian spices.
Our daughter's homemade canneloni ($4.25) arrived with a plain green salad topped with fresh blue cheese dressing. The house Italian also succeeds in the dressing department.
The canneloni is light, fresh pasta filled with beef that has been simmered and ground and reground into a tender combination of meat and spinach. The dish is topped with melted cheese. Delightful.
Portion sizes bore little relationship to prices. My husband's chicken cacciatore ($4.25) was half a chicken surrounded by large slices of green pepper and onion. The sauce had not permeated the dish, so it was just a tender portion of stewed chicken with a sauce topping.
A side order of spaghetti with a thick, well-seasoned tomato sauce accompained the chicken. Much attention also is given to the preparation of non-homemade items: the spaghetti was just right.
Every family is entitled to a mistake, and here we made a big one. We ignored the nightly special because it seemed unlikely that a veal dish priced under $5 could succeed. Later we suffered as others around us were served the veal marsala and it emitted its divine aroma.
On Friday and Saturday nights there are specials, but they disappear quickly. I'll just pretend the veal was all gone when we arrived!
I chose the homemade lasagna ($4.25) and had no regrets. The lightness of the pasta influenced all the fillings, and nothing suffered from the orderly layering of pasta, ricotta, meats and cheeses.They all worked well together, and the final cheese and tomato topping did not smother the rest.
There was a choice of two desserts, spumoni and cheesecake. We figured everyone had done well and decided to save the desserts and expresso for our return visit, when we'll have the veal. Or maybe we'll try the scampi, or the. . .
Our bill for six, including tax and tip, was $34.09. This was the type of dining experience all can enjoy.