In early January, one local chef was out promoting a new restaurant via Facebook. The thing is: It wasn’t his restaurant. Jon Bonnell, whose eponymously named eatery is a Fort Worth institution, was unabashedly cheering the return of Aventino’s Italian Restaurant. The new location, in the Westside strip center that also houses Mama’s Pizza and Szechuan, is a mile or so from the address where Aventino’s owners, the Paez family, had served classic Italian food for decades. According to daughter Erica Paez-Hight, Bonnell and her family were neighbors, back in the day.
About two years ago, son Derek Paez reconfigured the family restaurant’s original location on Winthrop Avenue and fancied up the menu. At that time, I had a long, lovely conversation with patriarch Al Paez regarding the homemade bread, about which he spoke endearingly. Although I adored the “new” Aventino’s bubblegum martini, my adoration and sporadic visits (along with raves from Chow, Baby) apparently weren’t enough to keep the place open.
This time, Paez-Hight and husband Chris Hight have revived much of the old menu. Al makes appearances as an ambassador, stopping by tables and chatting up new and old friends.
Aventino’s Italian Restaurant
5800 Lovell Av, FW. 817-570-7940. Closed Sun, 11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri, 5-9pm Mon-Thu, 5:30-10pm Fri-Sat.
All major credit cards accepted.
For this review, I took along my two favorite Italian foodies: my daughter and my sister, who’ve never met a chicken parmigiana they didn’t like. When we visited, Aventino’s was BYOB, although it isn’t any longer. We didn’t bring any beverages with us, but Aventino’s staff poured my sister and me a complimentary glass –– just one each –– of fairly good chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon to go with our meal.
We started with the decidedly non-traditional spinach soup, barely wilted spinach in a simple white broth. The more I ate, the more I liked it, though I can’t quite say why. It was a combination of the fresh spinach and the hearty, slightly cheesy, creamy, salty broth. We also ordered the meatball appetizer: three huge meatballs with a generous covering of marinara. Although Al no longer makes the bread himself, the Italian bread that came with the appetizers was delicious and useful for sopping up the last bits of goodness from the starters.
There are 13 pasta sauces from which to choose and then apply to spaghetti, ziti, capellini, or fettuccine. That means you could try a new pasta and sauce combo every week for almost a year. The marinara was seriously spicy –– and not for the faint of heart. What was pleasant on the meatball appetizer was a little heavy on the pasta.
My sister’s chicken parm was immaculate, gooey perfection. A lightly breaded chicken breast arrived steaming upon the obligatory bed of pasta. Marinara and mozzarella covered the bird, and the dish was still piping hot midway through the meal.
On a whim, I picked the tilapia caperi, white fish in a lemon-butter-caper sauce over baby spinach. (Diners have the option of having the fish over the spinach or pasta.) I was delightfully surprised by the clean, fresh fish combined with the tart lemon and salty capers. The heat from the fish deliciously wilted the greenery. If you’re a fan of the piccata family of Italian eats, you should try this dish.
The tiramisu was delicious and not too coffee-flavored, with appropriately soggy ladyfingers and a lighter-than-mousse top. The cappuccino pie, apparently a favorite at the first-generation restaurant, was not bitter and came out slathered in Hershey’s syrup. It was difficult to pick which was better (though neither is homemade).
In this day and age, you’re more likely to find a chef with a “family” of restaurants as opposed to a family-owned restaurant. The new Aventino’s is not sleek and cutting-edge. But it is comfortable and classy.
Spinach soup ………………… $4.50
Meatball appetizer ………….. $6.50
Pasta w/marinara sauce .. $10.50
Chicken parmigiana ………. $15.00
Tilapia caperi ……………….. $17.50
Tiramisu or cappuccino pie $4.50 each