In the 1970's my husband and I lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where we owned and operated a retail gift shop and also published a local magazine, for which I wrote the restaurant reviews. This activity helped to justify our love of eating out. We patronized and enjoyed the famous restaurants there such as Antoine's, Brennan's, Commander's Palace, Galatoire's, etc., but we also frequented neighborhood eateries, many of which were Italian. At least once a week we would visit one of those “mamma e papa” places “down on the corner” to enjoy tasty working-class food and low prices in a comfortable, informal setting. Messina's and Tony's immediately come to mind as favorites.
The tomato/spaghetti/pizza/marinara/“red sauce” at those places was not overly sweet. Later, when we had the opportunity to travel in the Mediterranean area of Europe, and specifically Italy (as pertains to this article), we did not find sugar-fied “Italian” sauce.
I realize that vine-ripened tomatoes are naturally sweet, and rightly so! And that many chefs add just a pinch of sugar to tomato-ey dishes to offset the acidity of the tomatoes. But some American cooks get totally carried away with this sweetening business.
It's even hard to find a brand of commercial spaghetti sauce that isn't full of sugar. (Reveal: I do not make everything “from scratch.” My “kitchen assistants,” i. e., kids, and I use Hunt's brand spaghetti sauces, some “flavors” of which have around 6 grams of sugar per serving. The “No Added Sugar Italian Style Sauce” has only 3 grams. Some of the other brands have 19 grams per serving!)
So, now I get to the topic at hand. Finally!
Henry, daughter Sarah, and I each ordered one of the “Traditional Favorites” at Vincent's in Blacksburg and found the “red sauce” 'way too sweet. Son David (circa 1983), however, didn't complain about the sweetness of his Chicken Parmigiana. (Perhaps younger people are so used to sweet that overly sweetened foods don't bother them.) Nevertheless, the “Breaded chicken cutlet topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese,” was not, according to David, as appetizing as Frank's version of that recipe, served in Tightsqueeze, Virginia. Vincent's entree was accompanied by a side of spaghettini, and a choice of homemade soup of the day, or a small house salad, was offered. The selection cost $12.95.
Vincent's main courses include pasta, veal, seafood, and chicken. Of our group, son Jonathan made the best dinner choice with Chicken Marsala, “Tender chicken breast medallions sautéed with sliced fresh mushrooms in a delicate marsala wine sauce,” which he pronounced as “nice” — a compliment coming from a teen not known for excess conversation. When asked how the roasted vegetables accompanying the chicken were, Jonathan shrugged. Also no comment on the pasta side dish. His selection cost $12.95.
We all opted for the house salad with blue cheese dressing on the side. A fresh, pretty salad was presented — a happy beginning for the meal. However, our daughter did come across some slimy spinach leaves in her salad, and my salad contained a few pieces of hard red cabbage. The salad “chef” was a little stingy with the dressing, though what there was of it was excellent.
Vincent's has potential. The owners have taken an unpromising building of automobile service station style architecture (actually it was a fast chicken place just prior to becoming Vincent's) and gussied it up fairly well. (A stroll to the restroom allows one to see the basic architectural design.)
The dining area is pleasant enough, with attractively appointed tables and trained waiters. (Tim tended to our table.) The owners have succeeded in giving a bit of an upscale feel to the “ristorante,” thus creating the sort of place a college guy might take an “important” date. (On the night of our visit, most of those guys and gals happened to be profs, not students!)
One could start the meal with an antipasto course, probably select an enjoyable entree, and end with cannoli, tiramisu, ice cream, or Turtle Cheesecake. Wines are nicely served, and the restaurant does have something of a romantic ambience.
The restaurant is closed Mondays. The hours vary on other days, so check their website. Incidentally, don't be surprised to find yourself leaving Vincent's with a doggie bag (or box). Portions are generous.
Copyright © 2005 Patricia B. Mitchell.