BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - We shouldn't have been surprised to find an Italian villa sitting smack dab in the middle of the township. There are, after all, several historical connections between Hammonton, Vineland and here ... and the many large Italian farming communities that bind them. Isn't it nice to discover a little taste of home, somewhere you least expect it?
Inside, Villa Fazzolari is neat as a pin. If Italian means wine bottles, pictures of wine bottles and a wine press loaded with grapes, then Villa Fazzolari will not disappoint. Forget the flocked wallpaper; instead, we were surrounded by stucco and brick, with one tiny vaulted room set aside for those special large parties that require a touch of privacy for a business meeting or family celebration. Shelves were chock full of family knick-knacks - donkey and cart, and terra cotta figurines that included a St. Anthony statue, faithfully watching over the diners.
Most entrees came with a choice of soup or salad. Zuppe of the day, pasta e fagioli ($2.95 a cup), was a hearty bowl of well-cooked beans and vegetables with ditalini pasta in a flavorful tomato-based broth. Salads were the typical house: lettuce, cucumber and tomato, served with a choice of dressing on the side.
From among mussels, clams, or calamari ($8.95) in marinara or garlic and olive oil, we selected little neck clams steamed in oil, garlic and herbs, with tough flesh that mightily clung to safety. We struggled to remove them from their hiding place between two hinged shells. Entrees began with Risotto alla Contadina ($18.95) - arborio rice, grilled chicken, sundried tomato, roasted red pepper and mushrooms in a light marinara sauce. Risotto gets its creaminess from the constant stirring motion used to knock the starch out of it, along with creamy things like butter, heavy cream and cheese. This version was good, if slightly overcooked; the rice in risotto should be al dente or slightly firm to the bite.
The dish had all of the aforementioned garnishes and more than enough slices of garlic in the mix. Sacchette ($14.95), a dinner special, was composed of those amazing little egg pasta beggars' purses stuffed with four cheeses. Imagine a handkerchief-shaped piece of pasta, paper thin, stuffed then tied into a little pouch. If your vision is of a little Italian grandmother, dressed in black, sitting outside, whiling away the afternoon heat while making these little pasta shapes for her grandson's dinner, so did we, since the server told us they were homemade.
Later, we found the exact same pasta sold by an international organization online. They still were very good, and definitely a different shape than we had come across - one of the many things that make eating pasta such fun. They were little works of art on the plate, served with a fresh tomato sauce and a lot of sliced garlic.
When in an Italian restaurant, one must always sample the cannoli ($3.95). This version was sweet enough, studded with mini chocolate chips, whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
It might have been the colorful poster on the wall, complete with a recipe for that icy after-dinner drink called limoncello, that got us dreaming about ordering one from the classy little granite-topped bar area, near the entranceway, for ourselves. A limoncello parfait ($6.95) served in a fluted glass seemed like the perfect compromise, combining the dessert course with a bracing libation. How refreshing! Unfortunately, we forgot to retrieve the complimentary glass it was served in.
Service was friendly and attentive. The wrong entree was delivered to our table, and our server and the manager arrived simultaneously to let us know it had been their mistake and to assure us the kitchen was already working on the correct meal. Servers dressed in black, also like an Italian grandmother, although we doubt "nonna" ever sported pink highlights in her hair.
A smiling accordion player wearing a Panama-type hat with a black band strolled around the room, stopping at tables from time to time, for a special birthday song. It wasn't until he began playing "That's amore" that the entire dining room put down their eating utensils and stopped to join him in the sing-along.
(C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
821 Harding Highway
Buena Vista Township
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Liquor license: Yes
Disabled access: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Price range: Appetizers $5.95 to $11.95, entrees $10.95 to $ 34.95
Our bill for two: $66 plus tip