Atmosphere: Italian cafe, shopping center style
Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 to 10 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Price range: Pizza, $5.50 to $8.50; dinner entrees, $4.95 to $6.95.
Reservations: Probably not necessary, but recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Choice, Carte Blanche, Diner's Club.
Special facilities: Easy parking in shopping center lot; accessible to wheelchairs; highchairs and booster seats available; carryout.
If you are not among those who made it to Europe during this summer of travel bargains, don't despair. The sounds and tastes of Italy can be yours anyway -- at a price that will leave you feeling that your dining-out dollar is still strong.
And there's no jet lag. Just a short jog off Maple Avenue in Vienna is a shopping center and Caffe Sicilia. The setting is bare-bones simple, but owners and staff show a genuine desire to please. The food is very good, and practically everything is priced below $6.50.
Caffe Sicilia recently opened a second dining room, more spacious and pleasant than the original narrow space right off the kitchen. In the new room, stucco walls and chrome-framed posters of the regions of Italy lend a whitewashed Mediterranean effect that the owners would do well to extend throughout the restaurant.
Although there is no children's menu, Caffe Sicilia is admirably suited to families and their pocketbooks. The Sunday night we visited, the place was filled with parents and children, including two adults and a dozen children celebrating a birthday. Pizza was the big draw in many of these instances, and rightly so.
The restaurant serves a deep-dish pizza with crust so thick it looks like a richly filled cake ($6.50). There are also two sizes of deliciously cheesy Neapolitan pizza with a thinner crust: Normale ($5.50) is supposed to serve one or two people, and the Grande ($8.50), three or four. Extra toppings are $1.25. We thought the smaller size large enough for three people.
Our waitress cautioned us that everything was made from scratch and that pizza required 20 to 30 minutes to prepare. We ordered the pizza, and with an order of antipasto to help pass the time, the wait didn't seem overly long.
The antipasto included good-quality prosciutto, tuna, mortadella, Genoa salami and the usual vegetables. It was dressed with well-seasoned oil and vinegar. Lettuce that showed brown edges, in both the antipasto and a house salad, was a flaw that should have been corrected, considering the care Caffe Sicilia gives other foods.
Since pastas are homemade, we sampled several: fettucine a la Panna( $5.95), spaghetti and meat balls ($5.95), tortellini Bolognese ($5.95) and ravioli con carne ($5.95). Tortellini, which are easily overcooked, were tender and delicious in a cream sauce that was fine despite having a bit too much nutmeg.
Caffe Sicilia's red sauces are light, fragrant and uncomplicated -- the stuff of a good Italian trattoria. The luncheon menu also offers several Italian sandwiches not usually available at dinner; however, we were told that if the kitchen is not too busy the staff might put together a meatball sandwich for a child.
Besides spumoni and tortoni, Caffe Sicilia offers cannoli and cheesecake (each $2.25) of exceptional quality. Desserts this good are seldom found even in expensive Italian restaurants. The cannoli was crisp and filled with a very lightly sweetened ricotta. Cheesecake was creamy and delicate with small bits of chocolate for a pleasurable surprise. Both were deliciously light conclusions to a very satisfying meal.
Because we sampled from various areas of the menu, our bill for five was $45.75, without tax and tip, but a family could easily eat pizza here for under $25.