It is really more inevitable than it is simply possible.
When new owners take over a restaurant, changes are going to occur. They may not happen quickly, but it is human nature and there is no way to avoid it. A new boss always thinks he or she can do it better or cheaper or more efficiently.
Sometimes the changes are good and make a place you love even better. But sometimes they are painful.
The changes I noticed during my visits to Salvatori's Authentic Italian Eatery on Illinois Road were more the latter. And they were painful for me because I have grown to love the Salvatori's restaurants over the years.
Original owner Sam Leto, who started humbly next to a gas station in New Haven before expanding southwest, sold the business in December to Panos and Stephanie Bourounis, who own Cosmo's House of Pancakes on St. Joe Road.
What was different this time? The food? The service? The atmosphere? Well, only the atmosphere was the same.
There were some great finds at Salvatori's and it is still a decent place for Italian food.
My first tastes were just like they always were. The side salad was fresh and generously overflowing with vegetables, the thin breadsticks were great and the cheese-stuffed Bosco sticks were even better thanks to the yummy cheese and herb mix dusted on them, which made marinara or cheese sauce unnecessary.
But when I ordered the tried and true Hot Spicy Cabbage, something was different. It was bland and not at all spicy. But it was still a better option than the scampi appetizer.
The diced shrimp atop thin capellini pasta took blandness to new levels. The issue was that the scampi part – the garlic, butter and wine sauce – was too loose and watery so it had no chance of clinging to the pasta or shrimp. It simply sank to the bottom of the serving dish. It was the result of poor execution or poorly drained pasta.
The sauce also ruined my Alfredo Especial. One of my favorite offerings at Salvatori's, it features crispy pancetta, peas, roasted red peppers and pepper flakes as sort of an homage to carbonara.
The sauce was too thick and pasty and there was no pool on the plate, which is odd since usually there is so much I dunk my garlic bread into it to soak it all up. Its flavor was mediocre and lacked the richness one expects from a good alfredo.
I asked for some freshly grated Parmesan to liven the dish up but was told Salvatori's didn't have any.
“We used to offer it, but not anymore,” my server said apologetically, adding that there is none in the kitchen to offer at all.
I asked for it again during my second visit and was again told there was none to be had. How does a restaurant make alfredo from scratch without fresh Parmesan? Now I know why my Especial wasn't so special.
The red-sauce dishes were the best bet and still lived up to the restaurant's reputation.
The meatballs were big and perfectly executed. You will have a hard time finding better ones in Fort Wayne, and a meatball was at the center of another fun appetizer, the Three-Meat Cuscino.
It included a quarter-pound meatball, Italian sausage, pepperoni and cheese baked in dough like a sausage roll with a side of marinara. The meatball was just right and the other ingredients worked, of course, but it arrived a bit tepid instead of hot with cheese oozing out of it like it should have.
The Sausage and Peppers Baked Ziti was a safe bet. There was plenty of oozing melted mozzarella on it and I loved how the sliced Italian sausage and red and green peppers were piled neatly in the middle of the pasta to give it eye appeal and allow me to distribute as I liked.
There was one red-sauced classic that failed completely. When you are in the mood for chicken Parmesan there is nothing else that will satisfy that craving, and I was in the mood for it during one visit. It looked right with two pieces of boneless, breaded chicken breast covered in sauce and a melted cheese blend atop a bed of spaghetti. But there was something off about the chicken.
After my second bite, I had a dining companion try it without hinting there was something wrong, and the look on her face as she chewed verified my thoughts. It had an almost soapy or floral taste as if an odd herb had found its way into the breading. I could not eat another bite and chose lasagna as my replacement.
The lasagna was still masterful. With a layer of sliced meatballs and a ton of melted ricotta pouring out of the pasta layers, there was no way I was sending it away.
One of the best desserts in Fort Wayne was also still fabulous. Salvatori's cinnamon roll is hard to beat. Made like a big sausage roll only with cinnamon, brown sugar and butter in place of sauce, cheese and sausage, it is worth the trip alone. I prefer white chocolate sauce to caramel, but you won't be unhappy with either.
I was not happy with the service, which seemed to have changed a bit. During one visit, my server brought to-go boxes within minutes of the main courses arriving. The mains were served by a runner so the server must not have known how long it took us to get them.
After telling her we were not ready for boxes, she disappeared, which meant ordering that cinnamon roll – which you are encouraged to order early because of the time it needs to bake – was a challenge. Then, once we finished the roll, I waited forever for my bill.
During the other visit, we waited a long time to be waited on and were never brought lemons for water even though we requested them twice. And, again, I waited forever to receive a bill, so long I nearly asked a manager if my server's shift had ended because she was nowhere to be found.
Restaurant: Salvatori's Authentic Italian Eatery
Address: 10337 Illinois Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Bosco sticks ($7.79), bread sticks ($4.29 small; $5.99 large), Cuscino ($6.99), scampi ($9.99), cabbage ($4.29), Alfredo Especial ($9.99 half; $13.99 whole), Sausage and Peppers Baked Ziti ($10.99; $13.99), chicken Parmesan ($13.99), lasagna ($7.99; $10.99), cinnamon roll ($6.59)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five