4225 Whites Creek Pike
Ah, the wonder of a good eggplant rollatini. It’s a dish that always reminds us of Valentine’s Day, because the Veggie Eater always ordered it at our favorite Sicilian joint in Milwaukee. The version at Café Fontanella is our favorite on their menu of Italian-American classics. The success of the eggplant is a combination of a delicate fry, creamy-sweet ricotta stuffing and fresh herbs.
How did Eggplant rollatini make its way to Whites Creek? It’s collaboration between the owners of the Fontanel Mansion and long-time pizzeria owner Anthony Amico. His Nolensville restaurant has garnered great reviews. The new spot occupies the space formerly held by the Farmhouse Restaurant. That joint focused on Southern staples. The room has been nicely revamped for a darker, upscale look…well, at least for Whites Creek. There’s a comfortable bar and a full-range of liquor, beer and wine. The tables are a bit more pizzeria in style and the overall feel is laid-back and casual. There is a bit of a disconnect between the servers and the menu. We’ve watched the former Farmhouse waiters understand the new menu. Some of the results have been amusing. What shines through is a genuine caring attitude and a Southern charm that we always appreciate.
You’ll get garlic bread at the start of the meal. The rolls are quite oily, herby and sport plenty of garlic. The Amico salad has fresh greens, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Caesar has to be one of the most abused salads around- and yet this version restores your faith: light and fresh with a lemon tang and plenty of parmesan shavings. The potato gnocchi comes in a Vodka sauce with big pieces of basil. The white pizza Bianca was flavorful and featured a well-executed thin crust.
A pork chop proves to be the only downside of several visits. It’s a super-thin cut and drowning in mushroom Marsala sauce. It’s too bad because the seasoning is just right and the gorgonzola and rosemary give it extra pop. Just a little restraint with the ladle and a better cut and this would be a solid dish as well.
Tiramisu is fluffy-light and rich at the same time. The cannolis are crispy and flaky on the outside and fresh and sweet on the inside. Either is a nice way to end the evening.
Veggie Eater: I have been known to actually publically cry (and I’m not much of a crier) due to bad Italian food and thankfully was not moved to tears during either of my visits. I was even pleasantly surprised. The Café Fontanella folks offer truth in advertising when they bill themselves as Italian American fare and that is greatly appreciated. As the meat eater attested, the eggplant rollatini is a delightful affair with the ricotta stuffing generously studded with big bits of fresh basil. The spaghetti on the side is fairly non-descript, but the pasta itself was cooked perfectly al dente. The side salad was generous, but the bleu cheese dressing did not seem house made (how about gorgonzola vinaigrette?). The staff is bustling and attentive. Jazz plays in the background when the staff is not playing live. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of Italian American and Southern, where staff respond with “y’all” and “preciate you.” As it’s close to home, very veggie accommodating (as most Italian joints are) and offers pretty good food, we will probably become regulars.
Meat Eater: When we heard they were going to have singing waiters our hearts sunk. We imagined the awful Italian singing waiter kitsch of bad East Coast joints in the 1970s. Luckily, it’s all very Nashville at Café Fontanella. Those waiters take the stage, pick up a guitar and play you an original song or two. It’s genuine and fun. Another night featured a fellow playing about every string instrument known to mankind. It’s good dinner entertainment that doesn’t take away from table talk.
The drinks are a bit expensive for Whites Creek. However, the food is reasonably priced. We paid $57 with tax and tip on one visit and $55 on another visit.
They have national acts playing a couple of times a month in the summer on the big outdoor stage in the woods. That venue is an excellent outdoor amphitheater and if you get a chance to combine dinner with a show you’ll be in for a good night.