Limoncello cake
Photo by Shannon Cornman

Italian chain restaurants have become shorthand for describing those who don’t like “real” food or aren’t “shopping local.”

Now here’s an unpopular position: They’re not that bad. Not really. I mean, if you’re craving the most authentic Italian food in Oklahoma City, you’re already facing a bit of an uphill battle. But the way some people talk, you’d think Olive Garden was literally serving poison.

Great Italian food is deceptive. It can look extremely simple, but it’s the hidden nuance that elevates the dishes you remember above the rabble.

Now let’s talk about Venezia Italian Ristorante, 8109 Northwest Expressway, which is a small chain (there’s also one in Del City) and has a menu with a few hits and a few misses.

They say pizza is like sex, but that’s not true because I have pizza all the time. (Is that why I’m not ... you know what? Save that for another day.) And Venezia makes a nice pie.

While I was hoping the Venezia’s white ($10.95 for an extra large) would steal my heart, it was a pleasant, if subtle, taste.

Instead, it was the classic Italian ($14.95 for an extra large) that had me swooning. It had meatballs, paired with pepperoni and sausage. Big, bold, punch-you-in-the-mouth flavors. And the onions are the perfect complement — not diced but long strips capable of generating crunch and that sweet caramelized flavor everybody loves.

The pasta combo has cannelloni, manicotti and lasagna, but it was difficult telling one from the other; lots of ricotta, but not a ton of flavor.

The ravioli and meatballs were better. The ravioli were still largely just ricotta vessels, but they were pillowy and soft, and the meatballs were tender and tasty.

I also tried the Rigatoni Veronese ($10.95), which features Venezia’s alla panna sauce over ziti with a mix of sauteed mushrooms, meatballs and sausage.

The meatballs, again, are pretty nice, but the mushrooms were the real treat. Some places go cheap and easy and use canned mushrooms, but these were browned and flavorful. Mushroom pasta at Venezia is definitely the way to go.

The lighter the sauce, the better the dish — at least for me. The chicken picatta ($10.95) made a much better impression. It’s lightly sauteed chicken, still moist, served with a lemon and white wine sauce with chopped capers. This was, by far, my favorite dish ... until the pizza arrived.

By the way, they make their own desserts. The tiramisu ($4.50) is nice, but the limoncello cake ($4.50) was like eating a glass of lemonade. And that’s a good thing.

Venezia isn’t perfect, but it’s trying. I might avoid a few of the appetizers next time, but with pizzas and a few Italian classics up its sleeve, I will definitely be back for more.

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