Like many people, I tend to frequent the same dining establishments over and over again, even though I am an adventurous eater. There's something about walking into a place where everyone knows my name and I can run into dozens of people I know on any given night. Most of my usual haunts are located downtown. Recently, a friend encouraged me to branch out and try something new to me, The Venice. When I moved to Fort Wayne over 14 years ago, I worked west of town on Route 30 and drove past The Venice on Goshen Road twice a day, every day, for years, but I never stopped in. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when a group of friends and I decided to give it a try, and we were pleasantly surprised.
The building is unassuming and a bit run down on the outside. The inside follows suit. The décor hasn't been updated in decades, but that adds to the charm. It features murals of Venice, Italy by local artist Jim McBride. The wooden paneling, red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and fake greenery remind me of the little pizzeria in my hometown. My hometown is small (less than 3,000 people), and the pizzeria was its only restaurant when I was growing up. After every high school football and basketball game the entire town would descend upon that place to celebrate a win or commiserate a loss. The Venice has that same feel: a place for families to gather to enjoy each other's company and some good food.
The Venice has been around since 1948. The current owners, Pat and Judy Finley, have owned it since 1981, and they want visitors to know that it is nothing like a franchise experience. They are still using the original authentic Italian recipes, along with a few new ones, and everyone is welcome, including kids. On the evening we visited they had musical entertainment, and many people got up from their tables to dance. That's my kind of place.
Here are a few of my favorites from the menu.
Antipasto Tray ($12.95) - Includes capicola, ham, genoa salami, spicy Italian cottage cheese, fresh vegetables and dip, olives, pickled vegetables, Italian cheeses, green onions, and pepperoncini. We ordered this to share at our table of four, and it was the perfect size for our group and a nice start to our dinner, giving us a small taste of each item on the plate. I especially like the cottage cheese, which was seasoned with Italian seasonings and had a bit of a kick.
Lasagna ($10.95) - Available three ways: with your choice of mozzarella or ricotta cheese; choice of meatballs, sausage or mushrooms; or with sausage and mushrooms. The portion size is huge, much more than the average person could consume in one sitting. Two of my friends ordered it and let me have a taste. The sauce is a little sweet, but not too sweet, and seasoned well. The cheeses are rich and savory, lending the perfect texture to the dish, as well.
Italian Fiesta Platter ($16.95) - A sampling of Italian entrees: mostaccioli, ravioli, veal Parmesan and a meatball. This dish is also huge; we had leftovers for days. Every item was prepared well, but the meatball was my favorite. About the size of a baseball, it was seasoned well and the texture was spot on.
Chicken Parmigiana ($14.95) - Breaded chicken baked with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. I sound like a broken record, but this dish is huge. The large chicken breast is lightly breaded and served with a heaping mound of mostaccioli noodles. It could use a bit more sauce, but the breading on the chicken was delicious. I've had Chicken Parmigiana at other establishments that are coated in a heavy and greasy breading and end up being really dry. This breading was like a cornmeal breading that you'd expect on a good piece of catfish. It was a nice complement to the juicy meat.
Famous Jo Jo ($6.95) - A sandwich featuring sausage, mozzarella, sweet peppers and special red sauce. This is a menu favorite, and our waitress raved about it. She was right. Like all other menu items, this is a heaping portion, and while it is a sandwich, it is impossible to pick up and eat, so get out your fork and knife. This sandwich alone is worth the visit. I will definitely be back for more.
The Venice offers carryout nightly. Weekly specials include: Thursday pizza night - 3 topping, 14 inch pizza for $11; Wednesday bucket of beers for $10; and Monday through Friday a lunch special that includes six sandwiches for $6 each.