Garden variety Italian | Rock Candy

Garden variety Italian



BIG BOWL OF PASTA:  Italian Gardens Chicken Primavera
  • BIG BOWL OF PASTA: Italian Gardens' Chicken Primavera
Back in our college days, Paul and I visited every restaurant in the city of Russellville. Mind you, this was more out of curiosity and boredom than anything else — we were radio people at that point, and I had no idea where life was going to take me.

Since we still have family in the area, we’re up that way about once a month, and we usually take time to check out the newer restaurants or visit old favorites. Which is why I was kinda surprised to find out Italian Gardens has been there so long. We had an interesting argument over it at lunch the other day — how could we have missed out on going before?

This argument was held over some of the tastiest garlic bread I’ve found. Mind you, we’re not talking about bread with garlic in it. This bread was apparently a large white bread roll baked again with butter and spices on it. But what a nice, guilty pleasure.

Now, I gave my father-in-law the benefit of the doubt on the building. The Shinn Building that the restaurant is housed in has been there for quite some time — it’s the oldest building in the city, as far as I could recall. But over salads he and Paul kept trying to tell me the restaurant had been there as long as they’d lived there, which for Paul was a lifetime. As I shared some of my cucumber and tomato with Hunter, I voiced my disagreement. I mean, I remembered a sporting goods store in there. I knew I only lived in Russellville a few years, but my memory couldn’t be that bad, could it?

We decided to let the discussion die when we received our food. Paul’s dad had the Philly Steak and Cheese ($6.25), which came served up with battered fries and au jus. He wasn’t expecting the au jus but he was quite pleased with the sandwich. Our waiter came back by and asked about it, and told us it was his favorite. We asked him how long the restaurant had been there, and he told us as long as he could remember. I asked him his age — he’s 22.

Well, maybe I was wrong.

Paul’s choice was the Lemon Pepper Chicken ($6.75) and mine was the Chicken Primavera ($7.50). We were surprised how similar the dishes were. Instead of an Alfredo sauce, both dishes of noodles came with a heavy chicken broth. His was topped with a lemon-pepper spiced chicken breast — mine with chicken breast and a nice medley of peppers, zucchini and squash. The bowls of pasta were huge, the new standard pasta bowl filled to overflowing with noodles, the added ingredients almost an afterthought. There was far too much pasta for one sitting on each plate — but then again, this is a college town, and I’m sure that like me back in the day, college students appreciate having something to take back and stick in their mini-fridges to heat up later… I’ve had my share of Chambers Cafeteria food, I can relate.

For Hunter, we were given a choice of chicken strips or pizza for her meal. She actually knows the word “pizza” now and when she heard it she wasn’t changing her mind. The cheese pizza delivered to us ($5) was the same 7” size as the other pizzas on the lunch menu. It was a nice handy size for an adult — for Hunter, we cut the slices in half and let her have at it. The sauce is on the sweet side, the same as the marinara served up with the garlic bread, but it was good just the same. Not gourmet by any means, but a decent lunch.

We didn’t get around to desserts, but they’re listed on the first page of the menu, right after appetizers — a collection of cheesecakes, pies and cakes that more reflect local flavors than Italian fare. I’m going to have to come back and try the Homemade Italian Creamcake, though.

As we were checking out, we asked the girl behind the counter how long the restaurant had been there. She started off with saying something along the lines of “forever,” but then added “about 15 years.” Ah. Now it made sense. Italian Gardens apparently opened in late 1994, right before I graduated from college and right after I‘d moved back to Little Rock. Yeah, it’s been 15 years. I feel very old now. But I was glad to have my sanity somewhat restored.

You’ll find Italian Gardens at 319 West Main in Russellville, the corner of Main and Denver Streets. It’s open for lunch and dinner every day. (479) 967-1707.

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