I just got back from lunch at Iozzo's Garden of Italy, and I'm feeling like a fat little cannelloni (the striations on my black and white shirt don't help).
Of course, the blame is all mine. Nobody goes to an Italian restaurant at lunch in purposefully tight attire. Nobody except for yours truly, who thought it might prevent me from diving headfirst into an overdue bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and meatballs ($8.95).
I knew there would be a situation, as I'd been trying to perfect a meat sauce recipe in days prior, and the endless accounts of different configurations with sweet or hot Italian sausage, veal cutlets, oodles of garlic and fresh extra virgin olive oil had left me a bit, um, eager. I had been dreaming in meat.
So when that shallow white bowl with white-topped mounds of misshapen brown balls was set before me, I lost it. I forgot how shallow my breath was in my tight little sailor top, and I went to town. It wasn't pretty: I left a trail of random orange splatters in my rabid dash to shovel it all in. On my shirt, the tablecloth, possibly even the wall.
The meatballs were worth it. In fact, I wish I had just ordered a bowl of those alone, because I'm not sure the sauce would have done well without them. It was a little too oily, had too little body and needed salt. The pasta was nothing to write home about. But the velvety meatballs were divine. It was like they had been fashioned of spongy tissue paper, imbued with the savory, soft taste of veal.
Of course, the meatballs weren't the only point of interest in this storied, new/old Italian restaurant. The original Iozzo's Garden of Italy reigned in the 1930s. Closed for decades, one of the original owner's descendants reopened the place officially within the last few weeks. I expected good things from it, with its strong Italian family ties and the consultation of Indy chef emeritus Karl Benko, formerly of Peterson's.
On many accounts, the promise delivered. First with the delightful, intimate space. Iozzo's, just south of Greek Islands, has the perfect buildout for an Italian restaurant: rustic, intimate, romantic. Dark, orangey tones pervade; a brick wall for class and edge; white tablecloths with exotic, colorful flowers snaking out of tall vases. Glass-hooded hanging lights. Extra attention to detail.
When I walked in, a cute 20-something Meg Ryan look-alike stuck me in a humid spot by the bar. I was negotiating my orientation against the floor-mounted air conditioner when another doppelganger came to take my drink order. This one was Adrian Grenier.
Grenier later suggested an appetizer, of course, as I waited for my company, and I opted for the soppy tomatoes ($4.95). It was a simple dish of tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, pepper and oregano, with a hint of lemon or vinegar. It was the kind of thing that could go bland or too spicy with an anemic or heavy hand, respectively. It didn't, and the pliable crostini sopped the soppy nicely.
Fast forward to the main events. They came quite quickly, and without the salads we were supposed to have gotten. I didn't mention this detail to see if and when our waiter would realize, but the blithe youth never did.
I already told you how the 'balls saved my Bolognese's posterior end. My friend opted for the fettuccini Alfredo with chicken. I've never been a huge fan of the dish I deem usually a hot gloppy mess; globs of butter and cream clinging to soggy fettuccini noodles gets monotonous for me. But this one was much better. It was studded with spice and sundried tomatoes, and the Alfredo was drier, tangy, more Parmesan-based. I would definitely try this dish some time. After the linguini in white clam sauce.
As we were leaving, another Meg Ryan -- this one from behind the bar, and clearly male -- asked me about my meatballs. His mother had rolled them that morning, he said. I wondered if she could help roll me out.