Words and photos by Holly Brown
I would be very willing to bet that Italian food has the capacity to bring human beings back from the dead. Whether it’s the heartiness, the affinity for carbohydrates, or the never ending supply of cheese, it brings all that is warm, filling, and reassuring to food.
This is especially true of those old school Italian joints, the places that have been passed through generations, that house family secrets of deliciousness and appear to have remained unchanged throughout the massive changes of the twentieth century. Finding the beauty in any city certainly entails locating and indulging in these old Italian gems, especially when one needs to be brought back from the dead.
In my other life, my summer life, the life in which I am not a poet/teacher/student but when I am the tender of grape vines (legitimately, during the summer I am a vineyard assistant) I am often in need of being brought back from the dead. Tending to grapes can be a demanding job, especially when the entire growing season culminates into one fateful day.
In early September, it comes time to harvest the grapes. This summer was no different. One thing to know about harvest is that it takes it out of you. I mean, here’s the deal, anything in the service of making wine, but at the end of that long 8+ hour day at the mercy of the elements and manual labor, all you want is a big meal and perhaps an even bigger glass of wine.
I wanted Italian food, as did my harvesting companions (Keelie and Joe) who got roped into an intense day of work while spending their hard earned vacation time visiting Akron from New England. We dispatched Ryan to pick a place where we could eat, and eat hard. He came back with a perfect answer: Dontino’s
Dontino’s is one hundred percent classic Italian staple. “Family owned and operated since 1930,” it’s the kind of place where, once inside, it could either be 1956 or 2016. Its timelessness is only enhanced by the very welcome, soft aroma of cooking garlic. If I wasn’t already hungry, I would have been moments after entering the front door. It’s the kind of place that brings your appetite out regardless of how much you’ve eaten before you arrive.
First and foremost, I was having a glass of merlot. That deep, bitter perfection that dries out your mouth and makes you go back for another sip and another sip and another sip? Yeah, it was ideal, especially once the starter salads arrived.
A well made dressing is such a simple pleasure. While dressing is often the aspect of a meal that is, while good, certainly not overly noteworthy, when you taste a damn good salad dressing, you know. I had heard legends about the quality of Dontino’s Italian dressing, and those legends were pure truth. With such a high concentration of herbs and oils, as soon as that first bite of drenched lettuce hit my tongue, I could feel it. My salivary glands stung with it, augmented with the accompaniment of the dry red wine.
Dontino’s is built on small courtesies and pleasures. The family charm invades every aspect of your dining experience from the décor to the staff to the fact that you are able to decide whether your side of warm bread arrives with your salad or your main course. If you are lucky to have an eating partner eager to share food, you can even have one order of bread come with salad and one come with dinner! Ryan and I, of course, did just this, as well as upgrade to cheesy garlic bread. Some advice: dip your bread in the dressing left on your plate. Leave no dressing behind.
As is tradition when indulging in Akron staples, deciding on a main course is stressful at the very least. I knew I wanted pasta, but did I want meat? Fish? White sauce? Red sauce? Was it even possible to make the wrong call? Spoiler alert: I don’t think so.
I settled on…salmon pomodoro. Something about tenderly grilled salmon with a side of just-sweet-enough tomatoes spoke to me, and for good reason. The salmon flaked off delicately: slightly fishy, slightly fatty, ideal flavor. The tomatoes were warm and herbed and salted. They complimented the fish in their incredible tang. The salmon came with a side of fat rigatoni and red sauce. What I love about Dontino’s red sauce is that they let the tomatoes do the work. Rather than rely on spices and garlic, they allow these accents to complement the already worthy flavor of the tomato.
Special shout out to Ryan’s choice meal (which of course I sampled for research purposes): linguini tossed with oil and garlic, topped with stuffed shrimp. Mmmmmm.
Time for a candid moment: this dinner was so good and so eagerly anticipated that it didn’t make it on film. It was only once everything was gone and I was happily rubbing my full belly that I realized the error of my ways. Here is my empty plate to represent everything that was this stellar Italian feast.
Dontino’s Fine Italian Cuisine, 555 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave, Akron, M-Th: 11 am – 9:30 pm, F: 11 am – 11:30 pm, Sat: 12 pm – 11:30 pm, Sun: 3 pm – 9 pm