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  • Stuffed Sea Shells at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Linguine and clam sauce at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Meatball sandwich at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • A cannoli at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Tiramasu at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Tomato Bread at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Pepperoni pizza at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Greek side salad at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Raviolis at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Gnocchi with marinara and a grilled Italian sausage at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Fettuccini alfredo at The Venice on Goshen Road.

  • Sausage roll at The Venice on Goshen Road.

Sunday, June 25, 2017 1:00 am

Italian staple set apart by attentive owners

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

The Venice

***

Out of a possible five

$$

A lot of restaurants are built on strong leadership and are true reflections of their owners.

They are the kind of places that you could never imagine existing without those people at the helm.

The Venice on Goshen Road is one of those places.

This Italian staple has been around for nearly 70 years and Pat and Judy Finley are closing in on their 40th year as owners. If you have ever been to The Venice, you have met them.

Though he spends less time slaving over a stove these days, Pat still makes his rounds from table to table making sure everything is good. He never fails to greet a diner. Never. And when you paid your bill, you probably paid Judy, who runs the register up front most nights. And she, too, will ask if your experience was good.

Those two – and the restaurant itself – haven't changed much over the years. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The menu features about every Italian dish one could imagine. And though some of them are brilliant, like the Veal Parmigiana, which is the best in the city as far as I am concerned, not all of them will blow you away. But even if your dish is just OK, you will probably leave happy. The Finleys will make sure of that.

The meatball sandwich made me very happy. A co-worker whose band has played The Venice several times – there is live music every Friday – said it was his go-to meal there and I can see why.

The hoagie roll was stuffed with the restaurant's flawless meatballs, which should be added to pretty much any pasta dish with red sauce. My server asked if I wanted it with cheese since it doesn't unless you specify. I was thankful she did because it was a must. Her asking was a service plus that I bet the Finleys are responsible for, too. No stones are left unturned when it comes to service under their watch.

One of those meatballs was nestled in the middle of my plate of meat raviolis, too. Perfectly sauced with the restaurant's marinara, which is simply perfect with just the right acidity and just a touch of sweetness, the pasta purses were cooked perfectly and the filling was delicious.

I had the Sea Shells with meat sauce, which is dotted with tiny bits of ground beef. These big pasta pockets were stuffed to their limit with ricotta cheese and spinach and were baked with a layer of oozing mozzarella on top. It was a classic dish made in classic style with classically good results.

My linguine and clams followed suit. There was nothing fancy about it and I have had better, but it was loaded with tender little shellfish and the pasta was cooked just right. The velvety white sauce absorbed all of the clam juice nicely so there was clam flavor in every mouthful.

The only dishes I really had issues with were the gnocchi and fettuccine Alfredo. It wasn't the gnocchi as much as it was the Italian sausage that I added to it that hurt this dish. The split-and-grilled link was loaded with fennel and red pepper, so it was way too spicy. It was also dry from being grilled too long. The Alfredo sauce had an ugly yellowish-brown color and was basically flavorless.

The pizza crust had plenty of flavor and is always a solid choice at The Venice. Its longtime faithful swear by it, but I think a sausage roll is the better way to go.

The sausage roll crust has a profound beer-dough taste that I assume comes from brewer's yeast. It made every bite a winner. Mine was very crisp and held all of the cheese, sauce and other fillings in perfectly. The best facet of these rolls is that, like the pizza, they come in three sizes. The smallest is pretty big, so I don't think I would ever go bigger unless I was sharing.

When choosing between soup or salad, pass on the house salad and the rather mundane minestrone and upgrade to a small version of the Greek salad or the unique and delicious Venetian salad.

The Greek has plenty of diced beets, pineapple and feta, and is a fine example of the Fort Wayne version. The Venetian has grated Romano cheese, egg and bacon bits with a mix of the restaurant's Italian house dressing and poppy seed. This sweet-sour combo was wonderful with the bacon.

A unique appetizer was a spin on garlic-cheese bread and was kind of weird but kind of good. “Our Own Tomato Bread” was, indeed, an original. It was basically The Venice's tasty garlic-cheese bread with a slice of tomato on each and – here is the weird part – a little ranch dressing.

The fresh, and ripe, tomato was key, and I gobbled down every slice. I would also ask for a little marinara to dip it in because I borrowed some from my mozzarella sticks and that made the Tomato Bread even better.

Though these items started my meals right, my desserts did not make for a happy ending.

Tiramisu sounded like the perfect classic Italian dessert to get at a place like The Venice. But this was not classic tiramisu; it was a cake-like version served frozen.

My cannoli wasn't frozen and had a rich, tasty filling and crunchy, cinnamon-spiked shell. But whoever plated it decided it needed a ton of caramel, chocolate and a red syrup that I think was cherry on the plate underneath it. I did my best to eat around it, but every once in a while the cough syrup-like flavor of that red sauce hit me and made me cringe.

Those flawed desserts and the poor Alfredo were served on one of those rare nights Pat and Judy weren't at the restaurant – a family graduation I was told.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but a big part of me believes it wasn't.

Restaurant: The Venice

Address: 2242 Goshen Road

Phone: 482-1618

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Tomato Bread ($6.95), minestrone ($2.50 cup; $3.50 bowl), sausage roll ($7.95; $11.95; $15.95), meatball sandwich ($6.95), linguine and clams ($10.95), gnocchi with sausage ($10.95), ravioli ($10.95), Sea Shells ($11.50), fettuccine Alfredo ($9.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (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.