Ferraro's: Cooking it old school

By Allison Costa 07/08/2010

Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant
2788 E. Main St.
$7.95- $19.75

New restaurants get all the glory. Grand openings, press coverage, big banners — we hear all about it. Older restaurants, on the other hand, are often taken for granted as they go about their business quietly. So I’ve decided to give some love to some of the area’s older restaurants. And what better place to start than Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant in Ventura.

Ferraro’s just might be the epitome of your classic Italian restaurant. It’s been around since 1970, when Betty and Sam Ferraro first started bringing a little bit of Italy to midtown Ventura. Fast-forward almost 40 years and you’ll still find Betty there, running the restaurant with her daughter Sarah.

The interior of this eatery is dark and dimly lit by candles and a few strands of lights. The walls are dressed in grape-pattern wallpaper, and bunches of artificial grapes hang from a trellis overhead. And all of this only adds to the Ferraro’s experience. In addition to the atmosphere, the service is solid. The servers are friendly, efficient and welcoming to guests of all ages, even those who need crayons and high chairs.  

When you dine at Ferraro’s, your placemat doubles as your menu. Printed in a basic font and filled with all your favorite Italian dishes, it just might make you nostalgic for the neighborhood Italian eatery you frequented back in the day, if you were lucky enough to have one. There are thin-crusted Jersey-style pizzas, thus named because the owners proudly hail from New Jersey. There are Italian sandwiches filled with salami, meatballs, or cappacola and fried eggs. You can choose calamari parmigiana, chicken marsala, veal piccata, or any kind of pasta you can imagine.

No matter what you order, garlic bread will grace your table. This simple, hot Italian bread is split and slathered from corner to corner with fragrant garlic butter. Once you start, it’s so hard to stop that you might have to sit on your hands if you want to save room.

All of the entrees also come with a choice of soup or salad. On our most recent visit, the soup of the day was chicken noodle — a simple but flavorful broth filled with small pieces of chicken, chunks of carrot and celery, and tiny pasta shells. It was soothing and warm, like something grandma might have whipped up on a Sunday afternoon. The salads are pretty straightforward, filled with mostly iceberg lettuce, some cabbage and a few carrots. What makes the salad memorable is the homemade blue cheese dressing. Thick, creamy and tangy — it is so delicious I once caught my 4-year-old trying to drink it, as one would drink the leftover milk out of a cereal bowl.

The entrees are all served on traditional white oval dinner plates so big they might as well be platters, so they are perfect for sharing family style. The spaghetti and meatballs comes with two tennis ball-sized meatballs, so tender and delicious you may not feel like sharing them. The spaghetti noodles are bathed in a thick, sweet, dark-red marinara and yearn to be wrapped around a fork and slurped down.

The chicken parmigiana consists of an enormous boneless chicken breast, lightly fried and topped with Ferraro’s sweet marinara and bubbly, browned mozzarella cheese. Since the tender chicken isn’t shellacked in a thick breading, it is allowed to bask in the spotlight.  It comes with a side of pasta, and we chose the mostaccioli (similar to penne, but without the ridges). The pasta was delicate and sweet from the marinara — making the perfect dance partner for the beast of a chicken breast sitting next to it.

Another house favorite is the baked Italian fried rotini. The rotini (similar to a corkscrew noodle) is cooked al dente and then pan-fried in olive oil until brown and crisp. The noodles are then tossed with steamed broccoli, topped with shredded cheese, and baked until the cheese melts. It comes with a side of marinara to pour over the whole affair.

The rotini becomes crispy and a bit chewy, giving a normally plain noodle a whole new bite.

For those dining with little ones, Ferraro’s offers free kids’ meals for those younger than the age of 6. And come dessert time, they’ll wow the kids even more when they stop by the table with a stuffed hippopotamus filled with candy. Apparently, this has been a Ferraro’s tradition since the beginning. While the kids chew on Tootsie Rolls, their parents can savor their last bites of food and polish off those last sips of wine.

Speaking of wine, Ferraro’s offers a small selection of reds and whites — my favorite being a half-carafe of the house Chianti for $9. And both Italian and American beers are available as well. Though it’s been around the block a few times, Ferraro’s food and service are worthy of plenty of fanfare. It offers large portions of authentic Italian food at great prices. And for many, dining at Ferraro’s could make for a trip down memory lane.   

What's your favorite old-school restaurant? Leave a comment on my blog at www.venturafoodhappenings.com.

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