GoodFellas—the Main Gate Square bistro, not the movie—left me puzzled.
Located in the former site of Chow Bella, this place could be the great little Italian restaurant that every college area needs. It could be.
While the menu has expanded from the previous incarnation, little has changed with the décor. There's new artwork, some of which borders on the erotic; there's better music, too, and real cooking is taking place in the kitchen.
Sadly, we were the only customers during our entire dinner visit. There may be good reason for this; trying to find information on the Internet about the place was next to impossible. Plus, dinner prices are a bit steep for the average college kid, even with the huge portions served here.
We ordered drinks (an Italian merlot for me, $5, and an iced tea for John, $1.50) while we read the small menu—a good idea in a small place. Our overly eager server, who was definitely in training mode, took our order. We picked the tomato and mozzarella salad ($8.95) to share, lasagna ($11.95) for John, and eggplant parmesan ($11.75) for me.
The salad was at the table momentarily, and I was impressed with its size: This could easily have been an entrée for two. Plenty of tomato wedges, fresh mozzarella cut into irregular pieces, red onion slices and oodles of raw garlic were all tossed in dried-basil-infused olive oil. A small cup of thick balsamic vinegar was served on the side, a rather clever idea. Dipping a slice of the crusty Italian bread into the oil/vinegar mix that sifted to the bottom of the bowl evoked a flavor memory of my father. One of his favorite summer dishes was a simple salad of garden-fresh tomatoes and onions. He never had mozzarella, but otherwise, this was his salad. Things looked promising.
The humongous slice of lasagna was well-built. Lovely layers of pasta, ground beef and ricotta had been baked just as they should be, and were then topped with sauce and a generous portion of mozzarella. The eggplant parmesan, too, was prepared well. The eggplant had been breaded and fried to a light crispiness, before being piled high and baked through. To the chef's credit, neither dish suffered from mushiness or overcooking.
The problem: The sauce—which was served on both entrées—was a complete turnoff. It was overly sweet (due to a heavy reliance on tomato paste, perhaps?) and loaded with garlic and onions, which overpowered the goodness of the other ingredients. Sauce is what it's all about at Italian joints, and this sauce didn't make the grade.
We took our desserts—a couple of cannoli—home. This was some of the best cannoli I've had in a long time. Attention was paid to the idea of getting it right. The shell crackled to the bite, and the stuffing was creamy and subtly flavored—not too sweet and full of air like many other cannoli stuffings I've had in this town.
At lunch a few days later, there were a few more customers, but our server was barely plugged in. He didn't give us any plates for our antipasto salad ($8.95); I had to get up and ask for them, and his reaction was, "Huh?" Fortunately, the manager took over from there, and things got much better.
The salad was pretty good. An enormous bowl was filled to overflowing with romaine lettuce topped with salami, prosciutto, provolone, mozzarella, olives, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and some of that wonderful balsamic vinegar on the side. The lettuce was almost unnecessary; we left most of it in the bowl.
John ordered the De Niro Italian sub ($8.95), which consisted of sweet sopressata, sweet cappocolla, Genoa salami and provolone, along with red onions, tomatoes, red peppers, lettuce and some salad dressing, all on an 8-inch Italian roll. It came with a drink—in this case, watery lemonade—and a bag of chips. I ordered the lunch special: two slices of pizza and a drink ($3.50).
We assumed the sandwich was going to be cold, because the menu includes a selection of Italian hot subs that did not include this item, but it was indeed warm. The sandwich was nothing to write home about; actually, the leftovers tasted better cold the next day.
It was the pizza that really disappointed. The crust was soggy, and it had so much garlic that it was almost inedible. I ate only one of the slices and left the other on the plate. Pizza, to me, is the perfect food, so for me not to eat a slice is not a good sign.
We did take a tiramisu ($5) home, but in spite of the proper mix of flavors, it was too dry.
There is so much possibility at GoodFellas. It's obvious the folks running the place want people to have a good time; they have a ready clientele and an ideal site. Prices might be a little high for the college crowd, but the portions are huge. Yet with more misses than hits, this restaurant resembles The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight rather than its namesake movie, one of the best gangster movies of all-time.