Via Veneto Italian Restaurant
By the Gastronomes
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore’!
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching we were in search of a place that is a bit off of the beaten path to write about. We found a perfect cozy spot just off of Fort Hunt Road in the southern end of Alexandria. Via Veneto Italian is one of the oldest family owned and operated restaurants in the city topping out at 38 years – they celebrate 39 in September. The restaurant is named after one of the most famous, elegant, and expensive areas in Rome – Via Veneto. Fans of Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita should recognize the name.
Sisters Marisa Fleck and Guiliana Austin, and their daughters, Kathy and Lilli honcho the entire operation. Marisa and Guilianna are from the village of Marotta (located in the Province of Pesaro and Urbino in Marche) and it is very evident that they carry on the spirit of a place where family gatherings and mealtimes go hand in hand here at Via Veneto.
The restaurant is located in the Hollin Hall Shopping Center just around the corner from the iconic Village Hardware Store and another favorite eatery of ours, River Bend Bistro. Some folks seem to think that a restaurant’s reputation is lessened when located in a shopping center, when in fact, there are advantages. The major perk is there is tons of free parking. The only decision to be made is how close you want to park to the front entrance.
As with pretty much ALL eateries located in strip malls, there isn’t an opportunity to make the entrance stand out so the exterior of Via Veneto is pretty pedestrian. They have a banner up and lights in the window but that is more for practical purposes than aesthetic. The interior is quite different with a wall of beautiful images of Italy tastefully hung above a candle lit shelf in the entry. The restaurant is very warm and comfortable with about 20 tables and a small service bar. The tables are candle lit and white linen covered adding class and style to the space. The artwork on the walls as well as the color palette add to the soothing feel of the dining room. Upon our arrival we were greeted with a big smile and welcome from Kathy as she took us to our table and introduced us to our server, Molly. While we always like to think we are special, we noted that is how everyone is greeted here as more guests came in to dine. The staff truly made us feel like family and Molly is an amazing server.
The dishes are authentic Northern Italian and the ingredients are always fresh and all of the pasta is homemade. Their menu has all the right selections of Italian cuisine without overdoing it with too many to choose from. There are four Pesce (fish) choices like Trota Arrosto, Filetto di Soglille, Cozze all a Gilda and Linguini Fradiavolo, translated… fresh trout, fresh filet of sole, fresh mussels and fresh jumbo shrimp. There are nine choices of meats and eleven pasta choices. Their complete menu is on their web site for your convenience.
Ms. G started off with a classic vodka gimlet while I opted to go straight to the wine. The wine list here covers all of the bases at a very reasonable price. We chose a Terrarossa Chianti Classico. It is a great Italian red wine at a very reasonable price and it complemented our meal perfectly. I must add here how competent and helpful Molly was as we asked questions and she provided the right suggestions.
Our dining experience started off with a basket of warm bread and butter delivered to the table shortly after we ordered drinks. Nothing much better than warm bread with butter except maybe the garlic bread that we didn’t realize we were going to be blessed with. You have to be a garlic lover if you have it – yum.
I started off with clams casino – six cherrystone clams adorned with crispy bacon, butter and parsley – and for my entree I chose an old favorite, Scaloppini all Marsala. The slices of tender veal were quite good with the Marsala wine sauce and sautéed mushrooms. The meal also came with a side of pasta in marinara sauce. With the addition of the house salad that is included and the garlic bread this made for a hearty meal that was wonderful.
Ms. G went with her Italian restaurant standards – minestrone soup and lasagna. She says you can tell a lot about an Italian restaurant by the way they prepare these dishes. Both met all of her criteria and the lasagna is a very hefty portion. In fact, we shared the leftovers for lunch the next day.
We rounded out the meal by sharing our favorite Italian dessert – tartufo. While most people lean toward the standard tiramisu, we are always happy to see tartufo on the menu. However, since tartufo is served frozen (vanilla and chocolate ice cream around maraschino cherries wrapped in a dark chocolate shell) it is sometimes a challenge to eat. Here at Via Veneto, they have solved that problem by serving it already split into 4 sections. It was the perfect ending to a great meal.
Now….back to the pizza. While we didn’t order any, we saw several go out the door while we were there and overheard Kathy taking orders as we left. That makes us believe that it must be pretty good. And…compared to other pizza joints in the area, the price is very reasonable – $15 for a small cheese and $17 for a large with all toppings only $1 more.
If you haven’t experienced Via Veneto yet, we suggest you put it on your to do list. It is a great place for a meal anytime but is definitely a place for a romantic Valentine’s dinner.
Via Veneto Italian Restaurant
1309 Shenandoah Road