There is a familiar feeling about Guiseppe's Italian Restaurant, located in Sugar House. Like the surrounding neighborhood, it has a certain weathered charm. Once the site of the now defunct Two Guys From Italy, the current building's decor has changed little. Bunches of plastic grapes hang from trellises on the ceiling, and the mural depicting panoramic views of famous Italian landmarks still dominates the quaint interior.
While seated in a booth alongside the Grand Canal in Venice, I couldn't help but reflect on the funky little Italian restaurants I had frequented in towns like St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh or in New Jersey outside New York City. Like the others, Guiseppe's has that certain blue-collar informality and grittiness. The only thing missing was Jerry Vale crooning in the background.I also sensed that the menu would reflect a more traditional approach to Italian cuisine before pasta, seafood and lighter sauces had emerged as forces directing restaurants such as Fresco's with its more complex and expensive Italian bill of fare.
There are no surprises on Guiseppe's menu, and the prices are moderate to inexpensive. Specialty dinners such as veal parmigiana and veal scallopini, each $8.95, include soup, salad, garlic toast and a side of spaghetti. Pasta dinners include such favorites as baked lasagna, mostaccioli, fettucini and manicotti, each around $6.50. The Fiesta Romana served for two or more people comes with salad, spaghetti, lasagna, fettucini Alfredo and garlic bread for $7.45 per person. A house specialty dinner with lasagna and spaghetti is $6.95.
Service is friendly and attentive and upon the recommendation of our waiter, we shared the Pasquale salad ($4.55), a specialized version of Guiseppe's antipasto appetizer. It was a heaping plate of lettuce tossed with a mild Italian dressing, lots of crumbled cheese, as well as mushrooms, olives, sausage, bits of beef and ham, and slices of green onion. It was topped with thin slices of mozzarella and pepperoni. It had considerably more texture and taste than the somewhat tasteless and slightly sodden dinner salads that accompanied our entrees.
We were also disappointed in the quality of three of the entree specials we sampled. While they were each ample in portion, they lacked some of the touches we had anticipated. With both the chicken vesuvio ($7.95) and the veal piccate ($8.95), the white wine sauce appeared not to be fully reduced in the cooking. As a result, the other ingredients, such as the mushrooms with the chicken and the lemon and other seasonings with the veal, were overpowered by the flavor of the wine. The slices of chicken and strips of veal were moist, but suffered a similar fate.
The cannelloni ($6.95), literally "big tube," was a meat and spinach filling inside a large rolled pasta square. The filling was so finely ground and blended with bread crumbs as a binder that neither its taste nor texture was distinguishable. The tomato sauce on the cannelloni as well as the sides of spaghetti was good - rich and lively.
The pizza had a crisp crust and plenty of cheese. It would have benefited from more of the homemade sauce; the canned mushrooms should have been replaced with fresh ones. Two of the soups, the cream of broccoli and the minnestrone, were adequate.
Guiseppe's Italian Restaurant presents predictable fare in a friendly, informal atmosphere. However, the food seems to lack a certain spark or flair in both flavor and presentation.
Guiseppe's Italian Restaurant, 1020 E. 21st South, 467-5525. Open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Live entertainment Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Closed Sunday. Accepts checks with guarantee cards and major credit cards.