Atmosphere: Cozy, pleasant and informal.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday; 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Sandwiches, $1.70 to $3.95; dinners, $5 to $18.25.
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, Mastercard.
Reservations: Not taken.
Special facilities: Easy parking in shopping center lot; accessible to wheelchairs; highchairs and booster seats available; up to two children under 6 years old served free.
There is no other way to say it: Vinnie's is a little jewel of a family restaurant.
Located unobtrusively in the King's Park Shopping Center in Springfield, Vinnie's is a small place with a large willingness to please and the quality to do it.
Few restaurants, even those that actively solicit family trade, take such good care of children, or their parents' pocketbooks. At Vinnie's, up to two children under 6 are served a free dinner of either spaghetti, chopped steak or shrimp, complete with applesauce and french fries. Older children can choose from seven different children's dinners, most of which cost less than $3, or from a list of sandwiches and fried seafood "baskets" priced from $1.70 to $3.95.
Parents will find a lot to please them, too, among Vinnie's many American-style dishes. Vinnie's forte is seafood, both broiled and fried, but there is also a tempting array of steaks, chops and veal dishes. Another accommodation at Vinnie's: You may order a smaller adult serving of any dinner on the menu for $1 less than the printed price.
One of our 10-year-old daughters ordered a shrimp basket ($3.30), and the other ordered a chicken basket ($3.95), both of which came with french fries but no vegetable. Our teen-ager ordered an eight-ounce rib eye steak ($8.75). My husband and I tried the seafood. He chose seafood Newburg ($8), and I asked for the adult small size of Vinnie's broiled seafood platter ($8.95).
From the long list of vegetables, we requested potatoes and salads. The salads of greens and sliced tomatoes were large enough to be dinner in themselves, and more than enough to share with our younger girls. Their chicken and shrimp arrived in bread baskets, mounded on a heap of french fries that were better than most because some of the skin had been left on them. Both choices were crispy and satisfying, and good buys for the money.
Rib eye steak was cooked exactly to order, tender and flavorful. The seafood Newburg, a combination of lobster, crab, shrimp and scallops, was a bit heavy on the sauce, but there was certainly sufficient seafood, and it was adequate.
Broiled seafood is a good measure of how well a kitchen handles fish. If not cooked carefully, it is quickly overdone and dry. But not at Vinnie's. Everything, from snapper filet to shrimp, had been broiled just to the point of succulence.
The drawback at Vinnie's? Its small size. The soft blue walls, booths and candlelit hurricane lamps would make it delightfully cozy on a night when it's not busy. But Vinnie's takes no reservations and it is blessed with an army of regulars. Expect to wait on peak nights and be prepared to tolerate some crowding and slowed service when the kitchen gets backed up.
We didn't have time for dessert, but Vinnie's serves homemade pies and cakes. Vinnie's has food as good as you will find in the suburbs; for the price, it has some of the best.
Because we sampled widely, our bill for five was $45.57, tax and tip included. But with an eye toward Vinnie's bargains, a family certainly could eat for less.