Fontana’s Italian Restaurant is not a ritzy joint. In a workaday neighborhood strip mall, its dining room is sparsely decorated with clichéd 19th century landscape prints and plastic grape vines. Dean Martin croons over the PA system.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.

Photos by Mark Hancock

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