With its second Fort Wayne restaurant, Zianos Italian Eatery raised the bar.
The original restaurant on Covington Road had a pleasant atmosphere, but the second on Dupont Road – three now exist with a new one recently opening in Chapel Ridge – is gorgeous.
It is tucked away in the Dupont Crossing shopping complex in a space that was once a pancake house. The ceiling and modern furnishings are neatly black as are the tablecloths. Auburn-colored sculptures are arranged throughout and a smattering of Italian artwork adorns the walls. Sinatra softly plays in the background setting the perfect mood.
The menu, like its predecessor, features a solid variety of classic pasta dishes, pizzas and sandwiches. And, ironically, the least-expensive item was the most enjoyable.
At just 99 cents for a basket of five, Zianos breadsticks were big – allowed to rise and puff up – baked until golden brown and brushed with butter. They had a unique sweet flavor (think Kings Hawaiian bread) that made them hard to stop eating.
The same sweet flavor was present in Zianos pizza crust. The pie I tried was the shrimp Alfredo, which had creamy white sauce in place of the usual tomato. It was topped with garlic shrimp, button mushrooms, diced tomatoes and green onions in addition to mozzarella. The only criticism I had was that the shrimp were diced, not whole.
As good as that flavor combination was, the flavor of Zianos staple ingredient disappointed. The marinara sauce was not sweet, not tangy and not exploding with spices. It was bland. And when the sauce is bad, it affects more than just the spaghetti and meatballs.
And those meatballs disappointed, too. Their flavor was decent, but they were soft and kind of mushy. Zianos gives you a whopping portion of spaghetti; even the portion from the kids menu was more than enough for one adult. But having a lot of it didnt make it any better.
The lasagna, which was on special for lunch one Saturday with a salad for $6.99, had the same sauce and was stuffed with sliced meatballs, but it was a bit better, thanks to its smooth, delicious ricotta.
I tried the nightly special Romano pasta to get a taste of all the sauces – garlic butter, Alfredo and marinara – which were mixed together over linguine with fresh tomatoes and either shrimp or chicken. I chose shrimp and they were big and plentiful. The light brown sauce had some of the nice creamy cheesiness from the Alfredo, but I still found myself going to the crushed pepper shaker trying to give it some life.
The Fontanini sausage and peppers over rigatoni was livelier. Red and green peppers were sautéed with the big, plump chunks of Italian sausage that had a powerful fennel punch, and they imparted some real zest into the sauce.
Those same zesty sautéed peppers could not help the roasted beef and mozzarella sandwich. The beef, also from Chicagos Fontanini Italian Meats, was thinly sliced and fine in terms of moisture and texture, but it and the side of au jus was offensively salty.
I chose a cup of minestrone with the sandwich and would easily choose it or the Caesar salad over Zianos Italian house salad. This Casa salad knockoff featured a hand-made Italian dressing that was terribly sweet the first time I had it. On my second visit, the sweetness was gone and it was way too sour.
The Signature Minestrone was one of the better versions I have had in Fort Wayne with lima, garbanzo and kidney beans in a tomato-infused broth along with celery, carrots, peas, potatoes, fresh basil and penne pasta.
Dessert was also one of the best. The typical cannoli and tiramisu are offered, but the chocolate chip cookie is the only way to go. It is a 6-inch gooey, melty, freshly baked cookie served in its baking tin with gobs of vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream piled on top. Like the breadsticks, you would just be crazy not to try it.
It will be a while before I give Zianos another try, however. Despite being strikingly beautiful, the inconsistencies in the food were equaled by inconsistencies in service:
When my server asked and I told her I only took two bites of the house salad that came with my Romano dinner because the dressing was too sweet, she didnt offer to replace it and said, Oh, well, at least it was free.
Even though a fellow server was grinding pepper on the salads and soups at the table right next to mine, it was never offered to my party.
After a bit of a wait for main courses, my server returned not five minutes after serving them to see if we wanted boxes making us feel rushed on a busy Friday night.
Restaurant: Zianos Italian Eatery
Address: 702 E. Dupont Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Minestrone ($3.99), house/Caesar salads ($1.99 small; $5.99 large), sausage and peppers ($9.99), shrimp Alfredo pizza ($8.99 10-inch; $14.99 14-inch), roast beef sandwich ($8.99), cookie ($5.99)
* (3-star maximum);
atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (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).