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Out of a possible five

Italian pub truly authentic

It is called Zambuca’s Italian Pub, and that isn’t just a catchy name for a bar that serves pizza.

Zambuca’s is truly Italian, and it was truly a nice find.

There is a classic puttanesca salad on the menu. I haven’t seen one of those offered at some of the finest Italian restaurants in this area.

The salad was made with a fresh spring mix, diced tomato and red onions, capers and Kalamata olives with several beautiful whole anchovies arranged on top. It was dusted with granulated garlic, had a simple olive oil dressing and the flavor was intense. You have to like anchovies, obviously, but if you do and you get a bite with a little of everything, you will be happy.

Another great starter was Zambuca’s house ciabatta bread, which was thinly sliced and topped with melted cheese. It was crisp but still chewy and the nicely browned cheese was great.

The atmosphere at Zambuca’s surprised almost as much as those appetizers.

With carpeted floors, dark burgundy walls and a beautiful circular wooden bar with a black and white checkerboard top surrounded by modern drop lights, it was elegant but still fun with mobster and Rat Pack photos adorning those walls. The heavy metal music was a bit loud during one visit, but it is a bar, after all, so I wasn’t too surprised.

Another salad drew high marks: the aptly named Italiano. The same fresh mix of greens was joined by romaine in this entrée salad, along with tomatoes, mozzarella and provolone cheese and chunks of warm, grilled Italian sausage. The sausage had a lot of spicy fennel, which nicely offset the sweet Italian house dressing. I also loved that it came with two pieces of that tasty ciabatta.

The Don grinder also included an enjoyable side of house pasta salad, which was made with that same sweet dressing, penne pasta, cheese and olives. The sandwich was meaty with capicola, ham and salami joined by mozzarella, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, pesto mayonnaise and giardiniera. The pesto had a lot of garlic, which was welcome, and it, too, was made with that toasty ciabatta bread.

The seafood alfredo pasta was better than I expected from a pub. It was a baked pasta with shrimp, imitation crab and browned mozzarella on top. The sauce was creamy and there was plenty of seafood.

The biggest issue Zambuca’s struggled with was service. Only one server was working during both visits, and both times the wait for some of the food was long. On a slow night, the server was attentive and kept me apprised, but on a busy night, I waited so long to be initially greeted that I finally gave up and walked to the bar to get menus and ask the bartender if someone could wait on my party.

On that busy night, the hot wings, which I ordered as an appetizer, arrived last and the wait for a small Margherita pizza was excruciating. And these two dishes had issues.

The wings were plenty wet and the sauce, which was dotted with black pepper, was better than the norm.

But the wings were a little rubbery and could have been baked a little longer.

The pizza, however, should have been baked less as it was a little black around the edges and the bottom of the crust was heavily charred. I also found the tomato sauce on this pie, which was also topped with mozzarella and provolone, pesto and Roma tomatoes, to be bland. It would have been better with about half as much tomato sauce and twice as much of that garlicky pesto.

But my overall experience at Zambuca’s Italian Pub was not at all bland. It lived up to its name heritage and is worth going back to again.

Restaurant: Zambuca’s Italian Pub

Address: 6179 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 459-2236

Hours: 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No; 21-and-over only

Menu: Ciabatta bread ($4.95), seafood alfredo ($8.95). The Don ($7.50 4-inch; $9.50 8-inch), puttanesca salad ($5.50), Italiano salad ($8.95), wings ($3 for 6), Margherita pizza ($10.50)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (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).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall) and he can be heard every Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.