It's hard to find a new combination of words to describe Campanello's. So much has been said about this Cincinnati dining institution that perhaps a single word says it best: Classic.
This family-owned-and-operated Italian eatery has served the Tristate from its original location on Central Avenue (just "three blocks from the beach") for more than 30 years, pleasing celebrities, athletes, tourists and loyal locals with its authentic Southern Italian specialties, homey atmosphere and hearty portions at affordable prices.
The restaurant resides on the first floor of what was once the home of Joseph Campa-nello, where his first son, Danny, was born. Danny started a small restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in the 1960s. Eventually, Danny's son Bruce took over the family business, which had added dinner as business increased.
The family-friendly feeling is still very much a part of the appeal of the place.
Dark paneling and simple furnishings that likely have not changed in decades add to the comfortable feel of the tiny two-room dining room and bar area. Lunch hour during the week usually packs the dozen or so tables and fills the bar (doubling as a lunch counter) with business folks. Dinner brings a variety of patrons, from families, to singles to pre-ballgame diners.
On a recent weeknight, we shared the small front dining room with just a few other tables (the Reds' game had already started) and a couple of folks at the bar. Our lone bartender/ server handled the small crowd with ease.
Authentic, Southern Italian (primarily tomato-sauce-based) dishes are the house specialties, served in huge portions. Uncomplicated, classic dishes, imported pastas and family recipes — Napolentana Baked Lasagna ($10.95), Eggplant Parmesano ($10.95) and Veal Marsala ($16.95) — have created many loyal regulars.
We chose Chicken Marsala ($14.95) and a huge plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs ($9.95) for our meals. Each dinner starts off with a basket of warm, chewy bread, for nibbling while reviewing the menu. Entrées come with a crisp iceberg lettuce salad topped with tomatoes, or a cup of homemade soup. My Chicken Marsala was a huge portion of two breaded chicken breasts and sautéed mushrooms, served in a sweet Marsala wine sauce, and accompanied by a side of spaghetti in marinara sauce. The leftovers (there are almost always leftovers) were just as tasty the next day for lunch. The Spaghetti and Meatballs entrée was even larger and equally delicious, topped with Parmesan cheese.
Although we passed on the evening special, a halibut filet baked in a creamy Ranch-style sauce, diners at a nearby table raved about it.
Desserts are homemade, including the tiramisu, which our server explained is made by the owner everyday and brought into the restaurant. Our take-home piece disappeared in mere moments.
Lunch offerings are smaller portions of the dinner entrée choices, plus hoagies and occasionally, homemade pizza.
Although Campanello's has a large loyal following, its award-winning Web site (www.campanellos.com) has broadened its base to folks coming to town for a visit. The extensive site offers not only menus and descriptions of the restaurant, but acts as an ambassador-portal for the city, including links to numerous local organizations and sports teams. The witty Web master offers up an occasional editorial, including his current views on the downtown boycott, complete with a copy of a "Boycott the Boycott" petition. The site includes coupons for dinner savings, as well. ©
Go: 414 Central Ave., Downtown
Hours: Lunch: MondayFriday 11:30 a.m.3 p.m. Dinner: MondaySaturday 5:30 10:30 p.m. Sunday, 58 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Eggplant Parmesano and pasta dishes; plus Chicken Marsala and other chicken and seafood dishes