Restaurants around these parts tend to stick around a long time or not at all. But to be a mainstay in Little Rock for 58 years? That's something else.
It's a claim the Villa can make. This Italian restaurant has met all contenders through the years, and though the menu has expanded a bit, the same rich sauces and hand-rolled pastas greet new and old who come to Rock Creek Square, which has housed the restaurant now for about a decade.
Don't get us wrong; it's not exactly the same. The little cozy and dark restaurant the Calabros ran has been gone a long time, but the legacy remains.
We ventured over for a bite on a Saturday night, hoping for hot bread and cool beverages, and weren't disappointed. Our waitress made sure we had plenty of the fresh slices of bread at all times with piles of butter pats (no olive oil and black pepper here).
Dinners come with both a salad and minestrone soup. No one in these parts does minestrone so well, with all the depth of flavor and harmonic resonance you get from tender and timely preparation. You could eat nothing but the minestrone — along with that fresh hot bread, of course — and be happy. The house salad is a lettuce and vinegar creation with lots of tart vinaigrette and curds of mozzarella. The Caesar, however, is probably the best you'll find in town.
We also sampled the toasted ravioli ($7.29) and were quite happy with the crisp, spicy meat pockets in their perky marinara sauce.
Our companion went for the cutlets Soriento ($18.79), veal breaded and cooked in brandy, marsala wine and mushrooms in a cheese sauce. The complexity of the sauce complemented the veal wonderfully. It's accompanied by meat-filled cannelloni in mozzarella and white cheese sauce, by itself a pleasant and hearty dish.
We also chose the chicken Vatican ($15.29), and were rewarded with slices of chicken breast in a delicate combination of white wine and mushroom reduction. The accompanying side of spaghetti was a perfect ying to the entree's yang. In fact, the worst we can say about our entire experience was that plates came too heaping.
On a subsequent visit, we went for lunch and gave the chicken parmigiano ($7.99) a try. The smaller portion comes with bread, a choice of soup or salad and a side of spaghetti. The surprisingly tender chicken and its breading make a good companion to that irreplaceable red sauce.
There are a selection of desserts available; while we did enjoy the chocolate chip creme brulee cheesecake with its flame-exposed crusty top, we'd suggest going for one of the house-made desserts, particularly the Damn Good Chocolate Cake, a gorgeous chocolate and pecan sponge cake soaked in chocolate sauce and dabbled with confectioners sugar. Decadent as hell, but you only live once.
12111 West Markham
(Rock Creek Square Shopping Center)
The wait staff doesn't press wine very hard, which means it's up to you to ask. Wine pairings are available, or you can go back and look at the massive Wall-Of-Wine on the southeast side of the restaurant and choose your own. Selections are wide and varied.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Extensive kids' menu.