About a month ago, friend and fellow food blogger Kathy from Carano's Cucina and I were having a casual conversation on-line when the idea of grabbing a meal together came up. When she suggested Dontino's Fine Italian Cuisine, I was definitely intrigued by the notion. Having driven by the restaurant hundreds of times, nothing had ever prompted me to consider actually stopping in for a meal. Until today. Seeing as we were both slammed for the holidays, we agreed to wait until the new year to check out this long-time Akron staple.
Having been around for eighty-one years, the restaurant itself was fairly simple to find. Located at the corner of East Cuyahoga Falls and Linden Avenues, there was ample parking behind the restaurant. Technically the restaurant was located at 555 East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue, Akron, OH 44310 and can be reached at 330-928-9530. Interestingly, there were two entrances to Dontino's. The first was the door at the front of the restaurant on the corner. The second was towards the rear of the restaurant on Linden Avenue. Either led you into the restaurant.
Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:
Tonight Kathy and I decided to enter the rear entrance (since we had parked in the lot behind the restaurant and this was the closer of the two entrances) and once inside, we were greeted with tonight's specials board:
I'm not quite sure what "Guinness" was doing underneath the dessert selection for the day, but I've often considered Guinness to be substantial enough for a meal, so I didn't really give it a second thought. We indicated two for dinner and our hostess led us to an incredibly dimly lit table just off the lobby.
She left us with the menu to peruse:
[Ed. Note: For the camera geeks out there, in order to get a non-blurry handheld shot of the menu panels, I had to jack my camera up to an ISO of 3200 and the exposures still took nearly 1/2 a second. Thank goodness for image stabilization and some serious post-processing work in the GIMP. Fortunately, I was able to return to a more sane ISO of 200 for the food pictures since I had my tripod.]
After placing our food order, the server was quick to return with a basket of sliced seedless Italian bread:
When the bread first came out, it was reasonably fresh, but it quickly staled and by the end of the meal, would've made a good candidate for croutons or French toast. The bread was served room temperature and while useful for sopping up red sauce off my dinner plate, was entirely unremarkable on its own.
As Kathy and I had both ordered an entree for our dinners, each came with a side salad with choice of dressing:
Among the myriad of salad dressings our server named, only the house Italian was homemade. Both Kathy and I decided to go in that direction. The salad was about as tasty as it looked. The tomato was mealy and hard (it was a January tomato after all), the salad was completely unseasoned, and the dressing had split into oil and vinegar components. Hoping that the seasoning would be in the dressing, I liberally applied it to the greens. While there was definitely a lovely garlic flavor in the dressing, it lacked the kind of seasoning needed to punch up the flavors. Fortunately, a glass jar of grated Parmesan cheese (from the "green" can, I would assume) sat at the edge of our table. I generously dusted the top of my salad with the cheese, "tossed" my salad slightly, and took another bite. Eureka! Kathy repeated the experiment to her salad and came to a similar conclusion.
Tonight I decided to go with the Thursday evening special for my entree, Sausage and Peppers:
At the time I ordered this dish, I hadn't realized that it came with a side of pasta. For an additional $0.75, you can upgrade any of the pastas to homemade pasta. So, unfortunately, it was dried pasta for me. As I lifted the spoon from beneath my pasta, I noticed one of my pet peeves: a pool of water under the pasta. While one can argue whether plain noodles should be topped with sauce or whether the almost-cooked pasta should be finished by tossing it thoroughly in the sauce, one thing that should never be present is a puddle of water under the pasta. Fortunately, the water was fairly minimal and the red sauce thick enough that when I got around to eating it, the two integrated into a decent consistency.
As for the flavor, the spaghetti and red sauce were good, consistent with most mom and pop Italian restaurants. The pasta hadn't been cooked to death and once I topped the pasta with a bit of hot pepper flakes, it was spiced to my personal preference. The sausages were a little on the dry side, but definitely not so dry that it crumbled. While there was seasoning in the sausage, I missed the anise flavor that fennel seeds would have brought to the party (a traditional flavor found in most Italian sausage). There was also an absence of any chile heat that red pepper flakes usually provide. I didn't find the flavor objectionable, per se, but more uninteresting.
Kathy, knowing that her entree came with a side of pasta, opted to upgrade to the homemade spaghetti topped with the same red sauce that I had:
Kathy ordered the Chicken Parmesan and she let me try a bit of her chicken (I had let her try some of the sausage from my dish). It certainly wasn't the best Chicken Parmesan I've ever had (that honor goes to Monte Carlo Italian Kitchen), but it wasn't bad either. It was clear the breading had herbs in it as not only could I taste them, but I could also see them.
When the subject of dessert came up, our server rattled off a list of several usual suspects (tiramisu and spimoni) as well as one that had been highlighted on the specials board at the front of the restaurant, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie:
Not surprisingly, Dontino's didn't make any of their desserts and this was more than likely standard food service fare that you could get at any of the national chain restaurants. But, since Kathy and I wanted to end our meal on a sweet note, we each donned a fork and split the wedge of pie within just a couple of bites. It tasted good, but as I suspected, it wasn't exceptional or even really that unique.
Our meal complete, the server brought our check. Since Kathy and I had ordered virtually identically priced meals and split the dessert, she agreed when I suggested we divide it right down the middle. With tip and tax, each of us shelled out $18 for our meal tonight at Dontino's. While this certainly didn't break the bank for either of us, it wasn't exactly inexpensive either. Neither of us left physically hungry, but I can't help but think that tonight's visit didn't really quench my craving for really GOOD Italian food. I'm certain that being around for eighty-plus years has made for some arduous fans of Dontino's food. Based on the food from this first visit, I remain unconvinced.