The Big Night Out is one of my favorite movies--it makes you crave that old fashioned New York/New Jersey Sunday sauce, big pasta and, of course, some sautéed veal and chicken Francese. Well, we had a big night out at Valentino's Pizzeria on University Parkway, and it delivered all that comforting Italian food--and more.
We first tried the Valentino's outpost on Clark Road years ago and fell in love with the sausage, egg and potato sandwich, baked stuffed artichokes (only while in season) and homemade soup--especially the pasta fagioli, which is made to order (so I can omit the beans).
Mike Valentino and his family have been doing it the right way for a long time--hiring local high school students to work the pizza counter and servers from the north that have spunk and a love of good red sauce.
The University Valentino's opened a few years ago, and it's about double the size of the original. Good thing, since the place fills up with families passing garlic knots and slices of calzone like they're at their Nona’s table. There's also al fresco dining, with nicely planted shrubs that block the traffic and torches that keep mosquitoes away and give off a summertime vibe.
Now let’s get to the food. Get ready for big portions here, and plan that your next day's lunch will be delicious leftovers from the night before.
We started with the crispy calamari, which is delivered with both a spicy and regular red sauce for dipping. Large slices of tender, lightly breaded calamari with a squeeze of lemon made it a great start.
Next up: long hot peppers with thin fried potatoes--and we added spicy sausage--known as the Jersey Platter. This dish is New Jersey in a nutshell. Add a little salt to the potatoes and you're good to go.
Two entrees stood out for us. The first: veal Cardinale, with shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto, fresh spinach and mozzarella cheese all sautéed in Marsala sauce (it's enormous and darn good). The second: chicken Valentino--boneless chicken breasts breaded and sautéed with olives, artichokes and bit of onion and wine sauce. Just as abundant and tender as the veal, and served with pasta or salad. We opted for pasta with both,which we used to slurp up the extra sauce, along with Valentino's homemade Italian bread.
And then there's the pasta. The Dejura Gorgonzola is a giant bowl of penne with creamy gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and roasted garlic in a light cream sauce. Baked ziti, another classic, was filled with creamy ricotta, mozzarella, Pecorino, sausage and ground beef, then baked with that delicious red sauce. Old-fashioned goodness.
There's also lobster ravioli, rigatoni with Sicilian eggplant tossed with fresh mozzarella, and about 12 more pasta dishes, along with sandwiches, wraps and pizza--lots of pizza. And Valentino's is happy to split the pie like they did for our half-margherita, half-chicken parm pizza. The toppings were good and sauce acidic, just the way I like it. Gluten-free pizza is also available in a personal size, and gluten-free pasta is available for an additional charge on the pasta dishes.
And for dessert, don't miss sharing the Nutella sliders, made with fresh fried dough and powdered sugar. It's a cute idea and one bite makes you smile. You just gotta order them.
Valentino's is open for lunch, dinner, take-out and catering. Beer, wine and sangria are available. Think of this as your favorite neighborhood spot--just bring your appetite and make room in your refrigerator for leftovers.
8203 Cooper Creek Blvd., Bradenton, 34201