Iozzo’s is a place with history. The Great Grandfather, Fred, was the patriarch that started the family business in Indianapolis in the 1920’s. By 1925 he had 2 dozen grocery stores throughout Central Indianapolis. The gem of the empire was an Italian restaurant on South Illinois. It featured a band stand, 2 kitchens,3 bars and seating for 850. A tragedy in 1941 led to a quick and final demise of the restaurant. The family kept their recipes and traditions intact for over 60 years before they opened Iozzo’s Garden of Italy in 2009.
Since it was such a gorgeous day we sat in the garden. A small courtyard paved with cobble stones.
Along the side were niches that framed some dramatic flame colored blossoms and at the end was a tall lamp-post with lead glass lamps.
How ever as charming and mellow as the setting was the food was the center of our attention. Also they had half priced wine this day. Pasta, wine and beautiful weather all in a stone and brick courtyard. That just seemed to call to us.
I decided that I needed a glass of Argentine Malbec to start.
The wine inspired me to have a plate of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and a salad. The basic pasta with the Family sauce or Marinara is $9. A change to Bolognese is an extra buck and the addition of meatballs is $4. So my pasta and salad was $14. I think it was definitely well worth it.
Now this was a swell little salad. A bowl of Spring mix,which I really like, one slice of Roma tomato and a cucumber slice. All dressed with a nice Basalmic dressing. Nothing fancy. A simple salad designed to start your appetite.
My plate of pasta was nicely presented and expertly prepared. A good bite for the noodle and a good sauce made for an excellent lunch, by itself. Add in the meatballs and you get an outstanding meal. They use veal,sausage and beef in making their meatballs. Which,in my estimation is the best combination for a meatball.
I was very much impressed with this little joint. From the fresh cracked pepper for the salad to the fresh grated cheese for the pasta. Everyone was on point for the service. Also they were short-handed and everyone stepped up and took care of business. That is something I really appreciate. Also, as an aside our server;Elizabeth is one of the grand daughters of Fred. I am not sure how many greats should be injected but she is of the Family Iozzo. A part of the chain. Which I also think is cool.
This was the place I was headed to Saturday night when logistics got in the way. It is also the one joint I thought Pat couldn’t eat at. I couldn’t imagine a meatball without onion. As it turned out I forgot to even ask. Sorry Pat.
It is an attractive place, nice furnishings and decor. It is also on the small side. Which makes for a cozy dining experience. I arrived shortly after opening and they already had a good crowd. So I didn’t try to take any interior shots. I find it awkward taking pictures with a bunch of people in them. Not everyone likes their image up on the internet.
The menu is simple. You get a laminated menu and an erasable marker to check your choices. They offer five different meatballs and five different sauces. They also give you about 10 different sides to choose from for $5 each. All are available on the side or under the meatballs. The concept is simple, and pretty much self-explanatory. So much so that rather than confuse everyone by explaining, here is a link to their online menu.
I decided on the 4 baller. Classic with marinara, veggie with garlic cream, turkey with mushroom gravy, and beef and spicy Bolognese. All on a bed of creamy polenta. A $16 meal with bread. For what it was I think the price was fair.
Each meatball had its own individual texture and flavor. The veggie was the most assertive, and not just from the cayenne pepper. It had a nice veggie component to it but it lost its charm after a couple of bites. I may have expected something more like a falafel. This tasted more cornmeal than chick pea. The turkey ball was fine. What you would expect. The classic was a nice example of a beef and pork combo. Flavorful and robust. The beef may have been my favorite because I tasted a bit of fennel seed in it. At least I think it was the beef. As for the sauces both red sauces were okay. If it weren’t for the spice I don’t think I could tell the marinara and Bolognese apart. One did have a darker color, as though it had been on the heat longer. The garlic and cream was good and just as advertised. The mushroom gravy was very delicate. I had it over the turkey ball,because I didn’t want the sauce to have too much competition. But really it is hard to keep all the tastes separate, after a while, on one bowl. On the bottom of all the balls and sauce was one common element. The polenta. It was indeed creamy and should have been an excellent accompaniment to all these balls,but I thought it was too salty.
I think this place has a good idea. They have only been open 4 weeks so they are doing an exceptional job so far. I can see myself coming back for a slider or two.
Like any good fella with OCD I try to be thorough. In addition to trying to understand the science and mechanics of cooking I have been fascinated by the history of food, particularly sauces.
Over the weekend I engaged in a conversation with a blogging buddy about Sauce Bolognese. She commented that the only must haves are chicken livers and cream. My contention was that pancetta and dairy were the only essentials. So. That tete’ de tete’ got me to thinking. Maybe I was wrong. Most of my info was from long ago readings and conversations I had with older cooks. I went back through my older books ( the ones I have still ) and the notebooks I could find and the inter net. What I determined was there is a whole bunch of disparate recipes for this one classic sauce from Northern Italy.
First thing I must say is Italy is just like most nations. Authentic cooking is not a recipe card you find from Betty Crocker. It covers a big area with different climates and different resources.
Back on topic. As far as I can tell the first written recipe of this sauce was by Pellegino Artusi in a book he authored in 1891. Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Living Well. Sometime in the 1980’s the Italian Academy of Cuisine translated and published a copy in the US. That is how I discovered it. I had a copy, but lost it. Amazon has it for $35. My copy cost maybe 8 bucks. I think he just called for minced beef and pork and a sofrito. The sofrito is a mixture of fine diced onion, celery and carrot. Culinary folks would call it a mirepoix. I have made this sauce a bunch of times. For personal use and for dinner service at various joints. For the most part my take on this comes from contemporary cookbooks and anecdote. Meaning I have talked with a bunch of cooking folks, both pro and amateur. This weekend I did peruse the ether world and determined that there is a bunch of different ways to build this dish.
So to the “bottom” line. Northern Italy is about beef and pig and dairy. So dairy should be a component to Bolognese. Some say cream, some say whole milk. Pancetta is almost a must, in my opinion. Beef and veal is considered appropriate, but also ground pork. The important thing is the cutting of the stuff. The pancetta should be 1/4 diced, the other meat should be minced as well as the veggies. The whole idea is to meld all the ingredients into a seamless taste. The fat used varies from olive oil to butter to lard. The pancetta should be crisp as should be the sofrito. After the minced meat is added a good beef stock as well as a good wine should be added and reduced a bit at a time. This sauce ain’t no 30 minute meal. The tomato is a secondary yet essential ingredient. The amount is small compared to some Italian recipes. You can use canned paste or peel and seed and reduce your own. As for the dairy that is added at the end. As for seasoning nutmeg is almost obligatory anything else is up to you. When it comes to the liver that is really an enrichment component. Liver is a rich addition to any sauce. The use is similar to the use of anchovy. In either event the livers should be cooked independent of the sauce. For what it is worth. I don’t always use chicken livers, but when I do I poach them in the same stock or wine I am using. Then either pulverize them in a processor or, if you want to be rustic use a mortar and pestle with a bit of poaching liquid and coarse salt.
Well I think I have abused this moment. You can find different recipes everywhere on the inter net. So go for it.