It would be understandable if you walked out of the place without even looking at a menu.
The décor is outdated – not at all cool kitsch – and the singing in the corner on this Friday night was taking music to new lows. A lounge singers rendition of Johnny Cashs Folsom Prison Blues – really?
But if you somehow overlook all of that, you might find a few things worth the trip to The Venice on Goshen Road. And you might even come to accept those laughable aspects as just part of the experience.
The Italian bar and restaurant is lost in the 60s, or maybe the 70s – whenever vinyl tablecloths and matching curtains with grapevine patterns, wood paneling, ornamental iron latticework draped with plastic grape vines and bad lounge acts were all the rage. The only eye-catching – actually, beautiful – parts are the murals in the back dining room and near the cash register up front by the late James McBride, the famous Fort Wayne watercolor painter.
The menu is just as old school, and I was pleased to see an antipasto tray offered. The Venices antipasto consisted of an impressive array of capicola, mortadella and salami; provolone and fontina cheese; and vegetables, pickles and pickled onions, celery, carrots and black olives. The other appetizers were pretty mundane, but the Buffalo wings were a surprise – plump, super crisp and more impressive than a lot of ones I have had at other bars.
I have been a fan of The Venices veal Parmesan for years and really cannot tell you a better place to get it. But this was the first time I had tried the veal scaloppini, which was recommended by Judy Finley, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Pat.
The same fatty, succulent cut of meat that comes so beautifully breaded for the Parmesan was this time coated in a dark wine and mushroom sauce that had the consistency of gravy. The wine was pronounced much like it is in Marsala sauce, and it was enjoyable. Not as good as the parm, but enjoyable.
The surprisingly fresh vegetables in the Chicken a la Venice made it enjoyable, too. The veggies – squash, carrot, green beans, red peppers and spinach – and chunks of chicken breast were tossed with spaghetti, olive oil and Italian spices to create a somewhat light but filling entrée.
Speaking of filling, be aware that if you order The Venices lasagna that you will receive a thick slab nearly the size of a brick. I chose mine with sausage and mushroom – meatball, cheese and vegetable versions are also available.
It was another part of the restaurant that made me a bit nostalgic as it was simple and straightforward but good, like Moms.
The sausage and mushrooms varied between each noodle layer as did the creamy ricotta and chewy mozzarella, and there was plenty of sauce, which was also basic but still tasty.
The sauce didnt work as well with the rather lifeless chicken Parmesan, which, unlike the veal, did not have any texture to its breading. But the same creamy, rich, oregano-spiked ricotta was wonderful in the baked manicotti, which arrived in an individual crock bubbling hot with a ton of melted mozzarella covering it.
The biggest disappointments in terms of food were the minestrone soup and the tiramisu. The soup, which you can have with most entrées in place of the even worse house salad, was mostly broth with barely any vegetables or shell pasta. The tiramisu was frozen solid, and I literally could not cut it.
But the biggest disappointment overall was the service, which was even worse than the décor. During both visits, my server had no knowledge of the menu and had to glance at one after each person ordered to write the orders correctly on the order pad. My drink glass sat empty for long periods of time on both visits, and the waits to order and to receive food were terribly long.
Pat Finley, who always takes time to check on folks when things are slow in the kitchen, picked up the slack during one visit by bringing a pitcher of soda to my table, getting boxes for leftovers and clearing dirty plates, which had sat far too long.
I cannot overlook service issues as easily as I can the dated atmosphere. There are some real finds on the menu at The Venice, but it will still be hard for me to find my way back anytime soon.
Restaurant: The Venice
Address: 2242 Goshen Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Antipasto tray ($8.95), hot wings ($5.95), veal scaloppini ($14.95), chicken a la Venice ($10.95), manicotti ($8.95), lasagna ($8.95)
atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).