by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
The Villaggio Restaurant opened at Ross Bridge in spring 2013 to a captive audience. Neighborhood residents hungry for upscale Italian—without the drive—filled the restaurant on opening day. And since that time, some of us non–neighborhood folks have become regulars too.
Located at 2301 Grand Avenue, Suite 109, Villaggio is easily found on the “main drag” just after you enter Ross Bridge. We enter the restaurant from its outdoor covered patio into the bar area. Here guests stop in for a drink at the bar or a meal at a bar table. The restaurant boasts exposed brick walls of reclaimed brick from a house destroyed by a tornado. On the wall above the bar, a large screen television makes this a perfect place to catch the game. A few steps down is the pizza bar space, guests who want pizza can dine here and watch their pie being cooked in the brick oven. The pizza bar also makes a great place for children who are old enough to want a little space from mom and dad to sit. From here you enter the dining room, which has indoor gas lanterns, handmade, dark wood paneling and a fireplace. And for private gatherings, the vineyard room is situated behind the dining room alongside a wine pantry with space for patrons to cellar their wine for special dinners.
Villaggio is locally owned and operated. Owners Jonathan and Tamika Dunning also own La Dolce Vita in Hoover. Time spent in Europe—most especially Italy—inspired the couple’s interest in food, wine and family owned restaurants. From this inspiration they conceived Villaggio and built from the ground up. Villaggio’s daily operations are managed by Jasmine Reyes, who serves as general manager of both of the Dunning’s restaurants.
In addition to Italian cuisine, Villaggio also offers prime steaks and fresh seafood. Being a lobster lover, I was delighted to see both fried lobster tails and a lobster pizza on the menu. We begin with an order of tuna carpaccio and fried lobster tails with a well-chilled bottle of a bottle of New Zealand Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2012. The tuna is splendid. Thin slices of tuna are accompanied by olive oil, lemon, and Parmesan cheese on a bed of arugula—making a light and fresh beginning to dinner. The fried lobster tails arrive golden brown on the outside and moistly succulent on the inside. Their platter is drizzled with fresh butter sauce and a spicy balsamic sauce for dreading. This dish is a newfound favorite that I plan to have on future visits. No way we can’t pass up lobster pizza. And there is no skimping on the lobster. This pizza is chock full of thickly sliced, pan-seared lobster atop melted mozzarella on a hearty crust.
From the entrees list we select seafood pescatore and spaghettini with meatballs in Sunday Sauce. Tasty house salads of crisp Iceberg and arugula lettuce, fresh carrots, cucumber, red and onion are included with entrees. Both large entrée bowls arrive with steam and spicy aromas rising. Above a bed of spaghetti, rest two, enormous meatballs, which are dense and delicate in texture and melt in the mouth. A pleasingly mild Sunday sauce envelops the spaghetti with an essence of tomato and accents the savory meatballs with a touch of acidity. The seafood pescatore turns up the heat with a spicy marina sauce. This seafood dish has a lot going for it: comforting spaghetti, huge shrimp, aromatic crawfish, and tender calamari. Each succulent bite—coated in the zingy sauce—satisfies my appetite for spicy, hot seafood. We end the evening with a dreamy dessert of lemon chello cake. The slice is the perfect end to our Italian dinner—light, fluffy and zesty.