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Salvatori’s

Out of a possible five
$$

Time to indulge: Salvatori’s 2nd location a hit

The only thing Salvatori’s Authentic Italian Eatery needed was more space.

The cozy little Italian place in a truck stop outside New Haven serves some of the best pasta dishes in the area, the service is excellent and it is one of my favorites.

But with success came crowds, making dining there a challenge to say the least.

A few months ago, owner Sam Leto not only found additional space, but he found a gorgeous space in The Shops on Scott Road that was once home to Aboite Grill. And now that space finally has food that lives up to its looks.

Little was done to change the interior except for the addition of some of Leto’s family photos; a family that is the inspiration for his cuisine. And the crowds have rushed to the new store, too, so Leto has already expanded to a space next door for large groups and spillover.

The already large menu did not expand, it shrank as pizzas are not available in the new store because of a leasing agreement by another of the shopping center’s tenants. But the new Salvatori’s has a bar and puts it to good use with decanters of infused vodkas, which are used to make fantastic lemonades and other adult drinks.

I tried one of Salvatori’s calzones – the closest thing to pizza they can offer – and it was an acceptable alternative. The dough was browned but still soft and was brushed with garlic butter. There was plenty of meat – pepperoni in this case – and cheese, and it was a tasty and filling sandwich of sorts.

But it was not as tasty as the surprisingly good Italian beef sandwich. It had tender, flavorful meat, sweet red Mancini brand peppers, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, a so-good-I-wanted-to-drink-it broth for dipping and it included a generous portion of pasta on the side.

While looking at Salvatori’s many complex pasta options, the classic spaghetti and meatballs seems a bit boring, but don’t let it fool you. Salvatori’s makes its meat sauce and meatballs the right way (nothing frozen here). For proof, you can watch how they make both on the restaurant’s website at http://salvatorispizzeriaprimo.com/kitchen.html.

The sauce had the perfect balance of sweetness and savory, slow-cooked beef flavor. The two hand-rolled meatballs – roughly the size of racquet balls – were Nana-worthy with the perfect ratio of Parmesan, garlic and herbs.

Those meatballs were also found in Salvatori’s lasagna, which has sliced ones in place of ground meat. But the star was the cheese: loads of velvety, creamy ricotta and chewy, stringy mozzarella. If you get a full order, be prepared to be eating it for lunch the next day, or better yet, as an indulgent late-night snack.

Speaking of indulgence, an appetizer found its place on my favorites lists. The sausage, chicken and roasted peppers was just that, a large crock filled with bubbling marinara, tender pieces of chicken breast, a lot of sliced Italian sausage, bell peppers, onions and Mancini peppers. It is served with thinly sliced, toasted ciabatta bread, but I advise pairing it with an order of garlic-cheese bread.

It was heavily seasoned and the fat from the sausage created a little pool of grease on top, but it had the kind of rich, slow-cooked goodness that screams comfort food. I couldn’t stop diving back in. I think Salvatori’s could even serve it by the cup as Italian stew.

As homemade as that “stew” was, a not-from-scratch entrée – one of few at this eatery – was almost as impressive, thanks to its from-scratch sauce. Leto gently enrobes his spinach raviolis in a creamy balsamella sauce, an Italian version of béchamel. He adds fresh mushrooms and more fresh spinach to the sauce. The balsamella is infused with garlic, the meaty mushrooms add depth and the dish is crazy good.

There were really few negatives when it came to the food.

The House Potatoes appetizer – ground sausage, onions and Mancini peppers topped with garlic butter and shredded Parmesan cheese – was tasty, but there were several undercooked potatoes in it.

The fettuccini Alfredo was rich and creamy, but I should not have opted to pay extra to have chicken and vegetables added. The sauce took on too much flavor from the veggies – particularly the broccoli – and lost some of its decadence.

I was also surprised, given Salvatori’s has time to infuse liquors, that it doesn’t brew its own iced tea. Actually, there was no tea as the drink dispenser was empty.

The service was also not as flawless as it has always been at the original. I was not told about the specials during both visits.

During one visit my server brought an incorrect beverage and then went MIA. The server was MIA during most of that busy night and the wait for the main courses and the check was way too long.

But I still left happy thanks to a dessert like no other.

Salvatori’s offers cannolis and they are pretty tasty, as is the tiramisu, but nothing compares to the cinnamon rolls. As large as and made just like sausage rolls, the pizza dough in these is stuffed with cinnamon-sugar and butter, and the crusty dough gets a little more butter on the outside. The butter oozes out from the inside as soon as you cut into it, followed by the lava-like cinnamon filling.

Journal Gazette Metro Editor Tom Germuska joined me during one visit and he literally laughed out loud for about five minutes after taking his first bite; it was that ridiculously good.

White chocolate sauce or caramel (or both) were the traditional topping options, but Salvatori’s has added dark chocolate, raspberry sauce and strawberry puree as options now.

Sounds like a good excuse to go back and have another – not that I need an excuse to return because this new Salvatori’s is pretty much as good as the original.

Restaurant: Salvatori’s Authentic Italian Eatery

Address: 10337 Illinois Road

Phone: 625-5600

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Sausage, chicken and peppers ($8.25), House Potatoes ($2.95), lasagna ($9.25; $6.25 half order), spaghetti and meatballs ($10.75; $7.25 half order), fettuccini Alfredo ($9.75; $2.50 with chicken or vegetables, $4 with both, $4.50 with shrimp), spinach ravioli ($10.25; $7.50 half order), calzone ($8.75 for up to three ingredients), cinnamon roll ($5.50)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (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).

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.

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