Zaza’s Cucina Restaurant (FOUR STARS)
Located directly across the street from Purity, the mid-sized Italian restaurant seems inconspicuous from the outside, but once inside, diners find themselves immersed in a dining experience that’s about as elegant as Campus Center isn’t. The menu boasts a sampling of authentic Italian dishes complied from the recipes of the mother/daughter duo that operate the eatery. Among the choices, the chicken parmesan, pesto gnocchi and lasagna bolognese proved to be winning choices. The gorgonzola pasta, on the other hand, seemed to be just different enough to miss the mark. And keeping the bar in mind, it’s probably relevant to note that ZaZa’s only keeps imports and local brews on draft and in-house.
Nothing about ZaZa’s could be called bad, but at the same time, depending on what you’re looking for, it’s entirely possible to not find it “good.” ZaZa’s Cucina is not your typical “I want pasta/pizza/ravioli, so let’s go out,” restaurant. As one of Ithaca’s truly upscale dining options, ZaZa’s will present you with an incredible upscale dining experience — if that’s what you want.
For that one date that you really can’t afford to blow, the birthday dinner your parents are footing the bill for or that one night a year when you just want to forget you’re a broke college student, ZaZa’s could offer the perfect solution. But be wary: unlike in Campus Center, you will seem out of place here if you show up in last night’s PJ’s or your sweaty gym clothes.
Napoli Pizzeria (THREE STARS)
There are few things in the world that outweigh convenience in importance; most of them disappear around one in the morning. Luckily, Napoli Pizzeria delivers until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Napoli’s orders are processed through Campusfood — or GrubHub, if you’ve already made the switch. In less than three minutes, you can have your order made, processed and sent. Unfortunately, the delivery time can hardly be described as quick — but if you’re looking for “freak fast delivery,” I’d suggested Jimmy Johns.
At any rate, Napoli offers an interesting selection of Italian cuisine. Though their specialty is pizza, they also offer a selection of reasonably priced pastas, dinner entrees and hot and cold subs. And the food’s not terrible. The pizza is greasy and over-sauced, and possibly a bit under-cheesed for my taste — but the crust is delightfully fluffy. Like the rest of Ithaca’s Italian delivery options, their pasta rates just above average. The hot and cold subs are nothing special considering the other options, but an eggplant parm sub can never really go wrong. As long as you’re not expecting a culinary masterpiece, you probably wont be disappointed.
It’s better than the pizza at Campus Center, at least.
Joe’s Italian Restaurant (FIVE STARS)
There’s something to be said for knowing your market. As one of Ithaca’s long-standing Italian restaurants, Joe’s Italian Restaurant fully understands that its primary consumers are college students — but it does so without sacrificing class.
Joe’s menu reads like a dream, offering both authentic Italian dishes and Americanized plates. Their pillows (essentially fried ravioli) are a gift to the appetizer subcategory. The chicken parm is incredible (though be sure to order it with a side of pasta), as is anything with their homemade tomato sauce, or anything with any of their sauces at all. If you’re looking for something to end the meal, go for a cannoli; they make them the right way, with little chocolate chips inside.
And good as the food is, one of Joe’s best qualities is the atmosphere you get to eat it in. The front of the restaurant is a bar that’s almost always half-full with townies and students alike watching one game or another. The waiters write their name in black marker on disposable tablecloths. The prices are reasonable. Joe’s is loath to forget that its largest market is made up of college students — and the atmosphere reflects that. Show up in jeans, and you won’t look out of place. Act like you’re twenty, and you won’t be patronized. Look at the bill, and you won’t see your dreams of next month’s paycheck die. The only thing you really have to do at Joe’s is eat.
Sammy’s Italian Buffet and Grille
Oh, Sammy’s, I expected so much more of you.
Like Napoli, my encounter with Sammy’s occurred via GrubHub, which I offer as a disclaimer. Unlike ZaZa’s and Joe’s, Sammy’s capitalizes on the convenience factor. It’s quick and inexpensive — and to a college student, there are few things more important. That said, if you were to venture out to Sammy’s Meadow St. locale, you’d find a family-friendly buffet that offers a unique combination of Italian, American, Jewish and Greek food. And that food is pretty much on par with Ithaca’s other low-priced Italian eateries.
It’s really the delivery where they get you. It could have something to do with the condensation inside the metal-and-plastic containers they package the food in. It may be that the drive from Meadow to campus gives the grease in the pasta sauces time to separate from the rest of the sauce (or from the cheese in the pizza or from whatever it is you decided to order) and pool over everything. Either way, by the time you get it, chances are you’re going to be staring at a wet, greedy plate of food. It’s not an inedible plate of food, and if the grease doesn’t bother you, the pizza’s good and the tomato and alfredo sauces are passable.
But at the same time, they have cannoli, and I do love cannoli, so that almost saves it.