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Best Bite - Venezia's

There is a good chance that you have a favorite comfort food somewhere in Arkansas. A restaurant that just doesn't miss. You go there, often ordering the same thing you always do, and the food, the drinks, the atmosphere, comforts you in a way few other things do. Such is the case with me and my love for a spot in Russellville that I've been dining at with my family for almost 20 years. Let's dive into the creamy, crustacean-filled, carb-y details with a few glasses of wine and an elastic waistband.

If it dates me so be it; but I remember when Venezia's building was a Captain D's. Soon after, it was a very short lived "comfort food" restaurant if I remember correctly. Not too long after the former's demise, a tall, unbelievably handsome (at least for this area) Armenian cat with a big personality brought some Italian food to our River Valley in it's place. Fran was my DUDE. He used to scoop up my son, who was just a little guy at the time, and take him to the kitchen door to try and get him to playfully yell at the cooks to "Hurry up!" and "Get to work!". Good times, but we're here to talk about the food that has maintained it's crazy high level of awesomeness even after a change in captains and all this time gone by.

Let's start with sauces. You can tell the difference in good and bad marinara for one. A straight canned or jarred marinara sauce is often... well, garbage. Too loose, under-seasoned, tastes like ketchup. And don't even get me STARTED on those damned floppy mushroom slices suspended like dead fish in some of those jars. Moving on. When you sit down at Venezia's, you have some buttery rolls dusted with Parmesan brought to your table with a steaming cup of really good marinara to sop up. The sauce is served warm and has obviously had time to reduce and thicken up a bit, with garlic and onion present but not overwhelming. Next is the Alfredo sauce. Cream, fat, garlic, salt, pepper, and it DON'T. MISS. They also have a lemon sauce with capers that comes on their Picatta, as well as a pink sauce that is delicious.

We have to talk about the pasta, too. I have never, and I mean never, in the 15+ years I've been eating there, ever had over-cooked pasta. I can't testify to how it's prepared, but what I can tell you is that it is correctly prepared. Lightly salted and what I assume to be plated just a bit under al-dente then finishes cooking in the sauce and on the way to the table. You also can't deny the portion sizes. Heaps of this perfectly cooked pasta in all that wonderful sauce and often topped with a protein and veggies! Freaking yum!

My personal favorite plate of food in the River Valley has not changed in years and is not likely to change for several more. I have easily eaten it 50 times and you can find it right there at Venezia's. The Shrimp A la Casa is perfect. Sizable shrimp served in that heavenly, garlicy Alfredo sauce with spinach leaves, sautéed mushrooms, and ladled very generously over spaghetti. There's something I feel that's on whatever the next level is past satisfied when I eat that dish. It's umami with all those baby mushrooms, the shrimp is briny and cooked perfectly, the dish has a subtle fresh garlic bite, and the cream sauce... THE CREAM SAUCE! It's divine. That dish raised the bar for what a comforting and expertly designed plate of food can be.

When you walk in, don't forget to check the large chalkboard for specials. I have seen a ton of different offerings over the years on the board ranging from lobster and steaks to lamb and veal dishes. This isn't fast food, so you will pay a little more, but the quality is unbelievable and the portion sizes are not normal. You will leave full, and probably take some home with you. The great service (their staff is trained very well), delicious desserts and tomato vinaigrette you can put on the house salad are almost after thoughts, which is really saying something. Go visit, get full, and raise a glass of wine to one of the longest-lasting, and consistent establishments in town.




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