A big night at Vincenzo's

Small Springdale 'ristorante' has the soul and authentic food a chain lacks

BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the movie Big Night, two Italian brothers try to run a restaurant according to artistic and personal principles but lose out to the crassly commercial showman down the street.

In the '50s, when the movie is set, what people wanted wasn't seafood risotto -- unless it came with a side of spaghetti and meatballs.

The Italian restaurant scene has changed in 40 years, but the conflict between personal expression and commerce never goes away.

With Italian restaurants in all price ranges as competition, a small, personally run ristorante is as risky a business as ever.

Vincenzo Mazzocca has taken the risk by buying Germano's in Springdale last February when Domenico Germano moved to Montgomery.

The new restaurant, Vincenzo's, has the soul that's missing from larger, more heavily capitalized establishments. Plus, it has excellent, creative Italian food.

Mr. Mazzocca, who's originally from Modena and worked at a family business in Florence before moving to the United States, was chef at Champs at the Hyatt, downtown, before cooking at Germano's.

He intends to keep the restaurant as is: small and cozy (there are only 44 seats, most in well-worn red booths) and unpretentious (restrooms have an outside entrance), but charming, the kind of place you'd like to be a regular.

He plans to get a liquor license so he can sell wine, a serious omission now.

I was impressed from my first bite of Funghi con Salsicce ($5.95), mushrooms with slices of Italian sausage in a winey sauce that begs to be mopped up completely with bread.

Antipasto Freddo for two ($5.95) is classic: lots of prosciutto and wedges of fresh parmesan, a couple of toasts with a salty olive spread and fresh mozzarella. Caesar salad ($2.95) has a creamy dressing, with an anchovy on top.

Mr. Mazzocca has taken seafood off the regular menu and put it on the ''specials'' board.

There's a veal special, too, and ravioli and a risotto, which makes for a long list for the servers to recite. They do it with little flourish, but they know the dishes well.

Salmone aglio e olio ($15.95) was the dish I wish I'd ordered: angel hair pasta with large pieces of salmon, dried and fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and the olive oil and garlic of the name tying it together in a most savory way.

More suave was Fettuccine con gamberetti from the regular menu ($11.95). Big shrimp and fresh tomatoes infuse an Alfredo sauce with delicate flavor, though one can't call the calorie count delicate.

The soft shell crabs special ($17.95) was prepared the way soft-shell lovers like them: a deep-fried crunch surrounding plump white meat.

What about seafood risotto? It's perhaps not the delicate and authentic version that Primo, the cooking brother in Big Night, stood his ground on, but it's wonderful.

For one thing, it comes in an American-size portion, a sea of just-tender rice. And it's full of perfect scallops and shrimp and chunks of salmon ($15.95).

The only fault I find with Vincenzo's food is that some of the dishes are served with pasta of the day.

One visit it was farfalle Alfredo, which didn't necessarily go with the crabs or the Pollo con Capperi Pommodoro ($11.95), which has its own light and lemony sauce with wine and tomatoes and capers.

Vincenzo's does not take credit cards. If you forget and show up with just a few bucks in your wallet, use it to buy a cup of coffee and some panna cotta ($3.50).

This teacup-size, rum-and-coffee confection is mostly cream, magically densified, and does it ever go down easy.

Three-layer chocolate mousse pie, tiramisu (both $3.50) and raspberry cheesecake ($3.25), are good, too.

Do go to Vincenzo's. Just don't all go at once, because you won't fit. When the restaurant gets its liquor license, it will be an even better bet.

Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.

IF YOU GO


Vincenzo's

***

Food: Excellent

Service: Good

Atmosphere: Fair

Value: Good

What: Tiny and personable cafe with honest and creative Italian cuisine.

Where: 11085 Springfield Pike, Springdale.

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Recommended dishes: Funghi con Salsicce, Salmone alio e oglio; risotto di mare; fettuccine con gamberetti, panna cotta.

Vegetarian choices: On menu, capellini with broccoli, mushrooms and garlic oil, plus a few other pastas. Ask about specials.

Prices: Antipasti $2.95-$5.95, pasta $8.95-$12.95, veal and seafood specials $12.95-$17.95, desserts $3.25-$3.50

Paying for it: No credit cards.

Reservations: For parties of six or larger.

Miscellaneous: Beer, but no wine or liquor. Takeout available. Entire restaurant is non-smoking. Restroom entrances are on outside. Not wheelchair accessible. Available for private parties Sunday.

Phone: 771-0022.


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Entire contents Copyright (c) 1996 by The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.