A Little Italy On The Square
By Tom Baker
Like some people, I have a hard time eating Italian out. The notion of being able to, at least in part, replicate dishes for which you might pay $20 at a nice place can be a turnoff. Value perception can make or break a potential Italian visit and La Piazza’s (in Troy) attractive décor, impressive patio space, and reasonable pricing certainly don’t knock it out of the running. The real test of course is for the food and service…
La Piazza opened in 1992 and is run by the Anticoli family – they’ve been in the business for decades, ran the recently closed Anticoli’s on North Main, and also operate a second location in New Bremen as well as the just opened Giuliano’s in Miamisburg. I have family north of town and decided to take them out on a Sunday night for something nice, thus we found ourselves on the square in Troy. Street parking was plentiful and we were greeted and seated promptly and pleasantly.
The ambiance of La Piazza is warm and inviting – appropriate for a romantic dinner for two or a casual family meal – and the service reflects the atmosphere. Staff is friendly and helpful – our server was certainly both, although a bit on the harried side even before things got busy. We settled in and ordered a bottle of wine and an appetizer. The wine list is nicely balanced between low- and high-end, Italian and domestic, with plenty of by-the-glass options. Unfortunately, our server knew little about the wine list other than the general popularity of the wines we discussed, but the Bruschetta La Casa that arrived as we sipped overshadowed this. This appetizer of crusty bread covered in goat cheese, green and kalamata olives, marinated peppers, basil, and garlic was fantastic and lasted mere moments and was the best seven dollars I’d spent in a while. This memorable house-made bread is also offered to the table with salads.
The green salad with La Piazza’s garlicky Signature House Dressing was a pleasant transition into dinner and we dredged the lovely bread in its remnants. Dinner, a sampling of featured, signature and seafood dishes, all at a reasonable $15 each including salad, arrived with a lot of anticipation but mixed results. The Linguine Vongole, a pasta dish of chopped clams, white wine, garlic, olive oil and Romano, was disappointing. The flavor, presentation, portion and overall appeal of the dish fell short of expectations. The bland, unattractive bowl of pasta was monochromatic in more ways than one. The Cannelloni, an “Anticoli Restaurant Signature Dish,” featured a row of three pasta rolls stuffed with a mix of beef, sausage and herbs covered in red sauce and cheese. For a signature dish I found it good, not great, and that title raises expectations.
The Eggplant Parmesan, arriving to our surprise sans pasta, was tasty but left us a bit bewildered. The thin, breaded cuts of eggplant were crispy and golden, and the tomato and basil sauce with cheeses brought the dish together nicely – it was simply missing the pasta, a standard accompaniment in my experiences. Last, and in this case, the best in show, was the evening’s featured pasta dish, the Goat Cheese Stuffed Black Pepper Ravioli with Pesto Pomodoro. The subtle pepper of the ravioli was an excellent partner to the creamy goat cheese filling, and the sauce packed just enough punch while balanced with the sweetness of the basil pesto. It appears that, at least in this case, letting the kitchen get a little creative is really the way to go.
We packed up dinner and prepared for dessert – with generally plentiful portions and little room left as a result, we decided to split two between our party of four. Although convention would tell you to go for the Tiramisu, we opted instead for a Cannoli and the Peanut Butter Fudge Parfait. Although decidedly un-Italian, the parfait sounded great and, had we not eaten so much for dinner, we probably would have had a family dispute over the last bits of the ample peanut butter, creamy vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and nuts. The Cannoli, a far more traditional dessert, came on a plate zigzagged with chocolate sauce and was complemented by candied fruits, a pleasant surprise. Although I prefer my cannoli pastry dipped in chocolate rather than sauced, it was a pleasant and attractive end to our meal.
It’s clear that La Piazza is no generic Italian restaurant fit only for the spaghetti and meatball crowd. Could a few of the dishes and staff wine training use some polish? Sure.
However, with the great ambiance and patio, attentive and friendly service, a luncheon buffet in addition to the regular menu, signature items available for purchase such as their great bread and house dressing, and of course some very good food, La Piazza should not be counted out when you’re doing that math.
La Piazza is located in downtown Troy at 2 N. Market St. and is open seven days a week. (937) 339-5553.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker