It's not by the mall or on a major thoroughfare, but once you discover The Italian Connection Restaurant on Taylor Street, you'll want to go back. This off-the-beaten-path restaurant offers diners the chance to experience authentic Italian cuisine without the trip to Italy.
We visited on a very chilly November day. Walking into the restaurant, we were enveloped in a warm and cozy atmosphere.
Our candlelit table was tucked into a small alcove. I wasn't sure I could squeeze in, but I did.
There's a lot to look at as you wait for your food. The walls are covered with photos of family and friends. Wine bottles line every shelf and window sill. The surroundings, coupled with opera and big-band music in the background, make you feel like you're in someone's home.
To start our meal, we ordered the Antipasto Insalata. Not knowing the size, we split the salad and our server was kind enough to divide it before it arrived at the table.
This was my kind of salad -- sweet, vinegary and with lots of different ingredients. It contained olives, banana peppers, cheese, ham, pepperoni, and red and yellow cherry tomatoes. I was disappointed that one of the tomatoes in my salad was a bit past its prime, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the rest.
As we were being serenaded by Rosemary Clooney singing “Mambo Italiano,”
our entrees arrived.
I picked the Cavatelli pasta dish. This potato-based pasta was shaped like shells and covered with marinara sauce. The pasta had a smooth, slippery texture. It was starchier and heavier than store-bought pasta. It was good, but if given a choice, I would choose a semolina-based pasta.
The marinara sauce was excellent. It was thick and had a rich, tangy tomato taste. Short of licking the plate, I mopped up all that tomato goodness with my garlic bread. It was so good I wished I could have taken home a jar of it.
I did end up taking home a little sauce. Like a badge of honor, I proudly left with tomato sauce on my light gray sweat shirt.
My friend chose Fettuccini alla Bolognese - pasta with a seasoned meat sauce. His dish was equally tasty. After taking his first bite he said, “This is definitely freshly made pasta - good comfort food.” At the end of the meal, his plate was as super-clean as mine.
There wasn't much conversation at our table because we were too busy enjoying our meals.
When it came time for dessert, all the options were tempting me.
Did I want the homemade spumoni - layers of pistachio, chocolate and cherry gelato? Or the Strawberry Alexander? Or the Peaches Flambe? Or the Lemon Cream Cake? I wished I could try just one bite of each.
Instead, I ordered the Zabaglione. It was delicious. After I devoured the whipped cream and warm custard, I uncovered the strawberries at the bottom. I felt like I had found a treasure. The Zabaglione was a sweet little treat at the end of the meal.
My dining companion chose the raspberry gelato. He said it was creamy and had a strong fruity taste - as evident by the visible flecks of raspberry.
It's the little details that make a dining experience memorable. My dessert was served with a small, dainty spoon, which made it last longer. My friend's gelato was served in a metal dish, which kept it as cold as possible.
We had good food and attentive service. The prices were reasonable and we received a 10 percent discount just because I made a reservation.
I don't know whether it's because The Italian Connection is the best kept secret in Fort Wayne or Saturday is the only day they serve lunch or the chilly weather, but sadly we were the only ones there.
I'll savor it while I can, because a secret this good's bound to get out.