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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The Vine Italian Cafe
10004 N.E. 23rd, Nicoma Park
What works: Italian food made by an Italian using authentic family recipes
What needs work: With tables close together, it isn't very private.
Tip(s): Make reservations in advance to prevent a painstaking wait.
Before this season winds down, it’s important to squeeze in some summer romance.
For such occasions, you might consider The Vine Italian Cafe in Nicoma Park. Located in a nondescript building, it feels as if you’ve been transported to the old country — provided Italy is that country in question. Strands of white lights twinkle on the back wall, while red-and-white patterned floor tiles add to the ambiance. Take note: The Vine is only open Wednesday- Saturday for dinner.
Several dining suites, configured to provide a more intimate experience, are separated by airy drapes. It’s not exactly quiet but will afford you a bit of intimacy with your sweetie.
Chef Mark Attanasi, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Chris, relies on clandestine family recipes from Italy’s southwestern region as well as Americanized favorites.
Although the vibe at first resembles a rustic eatery, the hosts go out of their way to provide a gracious welcome. Hurried servers do rush about since the place is always crazy-busy.
Once they stop at your table, however, they are unfailingly friendly and lead you toward the best items on the menu and wine list.
With selections from various vintners, the wine list lets you sample the usual reds, whites and zinfandels by the glass ($6.50) or crack open a good bottle of Chianti ($20).
But the kitchen is where Attanasi takes ordinary dishes and makes them wonderful.
Get started with antipasti — which, in Italian, translates to “before the meal” — and set the mood for two. Sure, you can consume bruschetta ($8) or an order of Italian cheese slices, which is mozzarella that’s been lightly breaded, fried and topped with marina or lemon juice ($9). But it’s far more fun to share and go for the Vine sampler, a terrific taste of caprese, bruschetta and antipast ($12).
Try Dah Gravy spaghetti ($12) and examine the tantalizing technique in the way the gravy (most of us call it sauce) intricately fuses itself with each strand, covering it in sweet, spicy bliss. Meatballs are optional.
The La’Vine signature lasagna, made daily, is not to be missed. Its structure is grandiose, layered with a sweet sauce and, best of all, a choice of sausage or meatballs. Sadly, quantities are limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Luckily, other pasta dishes — such as ravioli, manicotti and carbonara — are mainstays. For heartier meals, try chicken parmigiana, Marsala or shaved beef. Seasonal items rotate continually, as do nightly specials. Entrees range from $10 to $15.
The Vine gives diners sauce options. Select such classics as Alfredo or carbonara, or be adventurous with a spicy tomato gravy or Marsala sauce to accompany your dish. Glutenfree and whole wheat noodles are also available.
An understated basket of warm bread and green salad accompany your main entree.
Save room for dessert. The caloric indulgence is worth it. Your love may find it hard to pass up the traditional tiramisu, lemon Italian cream cake and chocolate cake ($6).
The cannolis ($6) come two per order. Encased in the deep-fried pastry dough is a delicious mixture of sweet cream. These petite tubes are then gently dipped in chocolate.
Still, what makes The Vine stand out is its warm hospitality and, above all, the perfect pasta complemented by fabulous sauce.