Iozzo’s Garden of Italy has become one of my favorite lunch spots over the past year or so. Located just south of Shapiro’s in the same historic building that used to house the late, lamented Café at Ray, this Italian restaurant already had quite a bit of history behind it’s name when it opened in 2009. The original Iozzo’s restaurant (a downtown hotspot in the 1930s) was owned and operated by the owner of the current iteration’s great grandfather. Iozzo’s Garden of Italy seeks to honor the original restaurant by taking inspirations and recipes from it. Based on the quality of the food served at Iozzo’s Garden of Italy, I would imagine that the original is, indeed, honored.
Having eaten lunch at Iozzo’s Garden of Italy more times than I can count, I think I’ve achieved my goal of sampling every dish on the menu. I can die happy now. My favorites are the lasagna (topped with both a red and a white sauce), the orzo portabella (stuffed with mushroom-y goodness), the chicken Parmesan sandwich (thick and juicy), and the fettuccini Alfredo with shrimp (simply delicious). A few dishes have disappointed me, although they’re in the minority. I didn’t care for the cheese ravioli, for instance, because it’s stuffed with smoked mozzarella and I don’t like the flavor of smoke. I’m also not overly fond of the pizzas here (I think it’s the crust I don’t like), although judging by the number of them that I usually see dotting the tables of my fellow diners, I think I’m in the minority on that one. Most dishes come with a small house salad, which is fresh and tasty, especially when paired with the house balsamic vinaigrette. The daily specials are almost always a hit as well, helping to expand the menu for regulars like me. On my last visit, the special was a crab risotto that was creamy, cheesy, crabby, and perfectly cooked. Iozzo’s Garden of Italy also features a full bar for all of you drunkards out there. The bar serves a wide variety of wine and beer, of course, as a well as a selection of specialty mixed drinks.
Thankfully, the appeal of the restaurant doesn’t begin and end with the delicious food. The service is uniformly good and the staff friendly. The dining room is upscale and classy with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, white tablecloths, blown-glass light fixtures, candles on the tables, and so forth. The walls are decorated with oversized black-and-white vintage images of members of the Iozzo family as well as the original Iozzo’s restaurant. It’s a cozy and welcoming environment that makes me want to curl up and eat a bowl of spaghetti. When the weather’s nice, there are also two options for al fresco dining – on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant or in the beautiful, walled-in garden behind the restaurant. The garden is choice number 1, obviously, but the sidewalk tables do have their appeal as well. In fact, on a couple of occasions I’ve stopped by just to sit out in front of the restaurant and sip a cappuccino. It’s very Soprano’s. Without the killing and cussing, of course.