Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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Fontana Italian Restaurant
854 N.W. 12th, Moore
What worked: The service was prompt and friendly in this family-owned bistro.
What needs work: A few inexpensive flourishes would add more appeal to the plain-Jane iceberg lettuce salads.
The tip: Bring your appetite! There is a large selection of traditional Italian-American favorites served in a simple setting.
Fontana’s is the kind of unpretentious Italian-American eatery you’ll find coast to coast. There are no white tablecloths or fine vino, but the spaghetti and meatballs dinner ($5.99) with salad and rolls is an honest deal.
Red carnations on each table were one of the few nods to dining elegance, but I’ll take server Jeremy Workman’s ready smile and efficient service over a snooty maître d’ in a tuxedo.
“I’m German, but kind of look Italian,” he said with a chuckle.
Fontana’s is the opposite of New Wave Italian cafes serving tiny portions artfully displayed on fancy china. The atmosphere here is comforting, and the serving sizes are hefty. Nothing on the menu is more than 15 clams.
right Chicken cacciatora
Our meal arrived at the table minutes after being ordered. Pasta was not overcooked. It’s old-school, Midwestern, friendly Italian- American food that’s affordably down-to-earth.
The menu is extensive with mostly familiar dishes, although some of the spellings were unconventional. There are 18 different chicken entrées that tend to be heavily sauced and flavored with sherry, brandy or white wine.
Chicken cacciatora ($7.99) and spicy chicken arrabbiata ($7.99) were no surprise, but chicken Murphy ($8.99) with its jalapeños in pink sauce raised my eyebrows. The chicken Marsala ($7.99) had just the right amount of aromatic sweetness from the aperitif, combined with a generous stir of fresh mushrooms.
All meals come with an uninspired iceberg lettuce and tomato slice salad. The house Italian dressing was an unappealing marinara sauce and olive oil concoction. Warm rolls had seasoning sprinkled on top and the menu said “homemade.”Workman confirmed they’re baked in-house daily.
Opinion was divided about the Veal Dama Bianca ($10.99). My dining companion liked the tender slices of meat smothered in rich brandy cream sauce. My portion was a less-than-fork-tender beef cutlet that apparently had been cooked too fast.
The lobster ravioli ($7.99), with its fat pasta pillows stuffed with succulent seafood and swimming in mild pink gravy, was a good choice, along with all the pasta entrées we tried. Tortellini Bascajoua ($6.99) was a primo mix-up of ham, green peas, mushrooms and navel-shaped noodles in a sherry cream sauce.
Luscious sauce is Fontana’s forte.
The saucy sautéed and baked pastas are its stand-out dishes. Baked Ziti Ciciliano with eggplant ($6.99) didn’t skimp on the vegetables, mozzarella or marinara.
The menu has several vegetarian options, and the five kiddie choices are all $3.50.
Save room for dessert: Three kinds of cheesecake, tiramisu and Black Forest cake are on the menu.
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aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.
Photos by Mark Hancock