Valentino’s in Summerville calls itself both a trattoria and a pizza restaurant. The latter more accurately describes your experience, especially if you have spent a part of your life in one of Manhattan’s boroughs or southern New Jersey.
Cuisine: Italian-American, pizza
Category: Neighborhood Favorite
Address: 1990 Old Trolley Road, Summerville
Bar: Beer and wine
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Costs: Appetizers $3.25-$7.95; salads $4.50-$7.95; stromboli and calzones $7.50, $13.95; pizzas $5.99 (personal pan size)-$24.99; entrees $12.99-$16.99; sandwiches $5.75-$9.25; kids menu $4.50-$6; desserts $3.50-$4.50; daily specials MP; menu specials
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: Carryout, free delivery after 4 p.m.; valentinossc.com, Facebook, outdoor tables. For students with a valid ID, a 20 percent discount is offered Monday-Wednesday. Lunch specials served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily: 2 slices of pizza and a beverage $5.99.
This is an old-school “pie place.” No sformato, no crudo, no risotto. The only foam comes on the head of a beer and here they call pasta “macaroni.” The wines are “dark” or “light.”
The restaurant courts our appetites for Southern Italian classics: the “Parm” family of eggplant ($12.99), veal ($14.99) and chicken ($14.99) or their cousins, the Alfredos: fettuccini ($12.99) or chicken fettuccini ($14.99).
They know a sub is a half (6 inches) or a whole (12 inches) and that ranch dressing goes on salad and is not a sauce for pizza (But that will not stop them from serving you a side for 75 cents.)
Valentino’s opened in March with a somewhat drowsy decor and a restaurant divided into two zones. On the right are the pizza “pick up counters” offering an easy view of the pizza makers at work tossing, stretching, topping, sliding and cutting the pies. No Neapolitan conceits here, that of not cutting the pie into slices. Here the rip of the pizza wheel into the crust is a part of the experience.
A row of booths flanks the perimeter of this side of the restaurant. Tables are in the main dining room area. There is a short run of a bar that provides a service area for the servers and a half wall that displays the beer and wine selections, including Italian birra with the American “light” brews. Italian pasta posters remain on the walls from the previous Italian restaurant tenant.
Valentino’s is a casual and economical Italian dining spot. As interpreters of Italian cuisine, they speak with the heart of garlic and a steady hand stirring the red sauce. Portions are large, salads are fresh and the house dressing is a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.
For $3.50 they make a “banzini bread” appetizer that is layered with ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. It is baked until the molten lava of cheese turns a golden, crusted brown. It’s lasagna minus the noodles on garlic bread and very popular.
Meatballs are made in house and braised to a tender rosy hue. Valentino’s makes its own Italian sausage and is generous with fennel seeds. Try either, served three to an order for $4.50.
Entrees are accompanied by a salad of greens, red cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes and canned olives. The ingredients were fresh, crisp and generous. A warm portion of bread and a complimentary glass of wine are served with the dinners.
The menu spans Italian-American staples: ravioli ($12.99), ziti ($12.99), linguini with seafood ($14.99), as well as simple spaghetti and meatballs ($12.99).
We ordered spaghetti carbonara ($12.99), a Roman classic made here with bacon, eggs, Parmesan cheese and white sauce. It was not quite the original and missing the generous addition of coarse black pepper believed to be the source of this dish’s name: “carbon” from the black pepper specks. Authentic, no; good, yes. And after sharing this dish, we had over a pound of pasta as leftovers.
Punch-drunk as we are on pizza, with the newest players of DeSano’s, New York City Pizza, Grimaldi’s, Slice and Crust open or soon to open, Valentino’s joins the fray and offers a thick-crusted, square cut Sicilian pizza, a New York-style thin-crusted pizza, an individual 10-inch personal pizza and 21 topping options.
The small cheese pizza ($5.99) came out of the oven thin-crusted and hot. The crust, whose undercarriage was marked by charred bits of dough, was more chewy than crisp. We missed the “snap” that we associate with a New York “apeez.”
The sauce had good flavor with granulated garlic notes making their presence known. The cheese and sauce melted together to form the “eye” of the pizza sauce, where the heat of the oven wrestles the fat out of the cheese and the ingredients morph into a state of pizza “gooeyness.”
Twenty-one special pizza versions ($8.49-$24.99) include a classic Margherita and a Hawaii Pie-O with pineapple, bacon and ham ($14.49) along with simple pies of red ($8.49) with just pizza sauce or white ($13.49) with ricotta and mozzarella.
Valentino’s offer value-based dining. Portions will having you uttering “basta”! (enough) and the variety of specials on the menu will make it a bit easier for families to enjoy a night out.
At the time of our visit, our server was managing the dining room single-handedly. A co-worker did not show up for the dinner shift. This woman, with patience and a sense of humor, took care of every table in the room.
If you are the kind of eater who likes your red sauce straight up and your pasta abbondanza, Valentino’s is your pizza-pasta palace.