In March 2012, the Italian Oven Restaurant will celebrate its second anniversary at 5301 Grove Road in Whitehall Borough's Caste Village, and on Nov. 10, 2011, my husband, Gary, and I enjoyed a delectable dining experience at that very place.
Manager Rich Hellwig greeted us at around 6 p.m. on Thursday and sat us in a comfortable booth at the far end of the restaurant. Erin, our waitress, introduced herself and quickly gave us our menus.
Erin told us of that evening's special—a surf & turf for $15.99—and took our drink choices. Gary chose a Cellar No. 8 wine, and I had a cabernet. Both were served at the optimal temperature and were very tasty.
A phrase on the Italian Oven's menus caught my eye: "Eat Better. Live Well." We would soon realize just how appropriate those words were.
As those of you who read my restaurant reviews know, it's important to me to be able to either lighten the menu choices or have a light food choice to order from. It was a bit of a challenge here, but as usual, it can be done!
Our dining experience began with an appetizer of heirloom tomato bruschetta, which was prepared with Asiago and Parmesan cheeses and a balsamic-basil glaze ($7.99).
The appetizers ranged from Tuscan fries for $6.99 to crispy calamari & shrimp for $10.49.
Rich sent us a sample of the restaurant's zucchini appetizer ($9.99), which was prepared crisp but with light breading. Gary thought that the zucchini were light, not greasy and very tasty.
Browsing through the menu took a long time due to the overwhelming amount of choices. Erin was very helpful in answering our questions and making suggestions.
The menu starts with salad choices ranging from $5.99 for a wedge to $12.99 for a "Caste Village salad" that includes crab meat. Wedding soup was on the menu, as well, for $3.99.
A list of house specials ranged from $12.99 for a half-rack of barbecue baby ribs to $17.99 for crab cakes Gianna. The specials vary depending on the day of the week, but each special comes with a café salad and several dressing choices.
For my main course, I chose a grilled salmon, which was a five-ounce piece of fish topped with basil oil, Asiago/Parmesan risotto and mixed vegetables. One word: wonderful!
Gary looked over an array of pasta choices ranging from linguini pomodoro ($8.99) to chicken Parmesan ($12.99) and shrimp Fra Diavolo (also $12.99) before deciding on mezze rigatoni with Bolognese sauce ($11.99). The restaurant makes all of its own sauces, and Gary's particular dish had beef, pork and veal throughout it. He made several comments on its deliciousness.
Italian Oven's menu has a huge selection of pizzas, such as "Rosa," which has a traditional red sauce and Italian cheeses and ranges in price from $4.99 for a personal size to $13.99 for an 18-inch, 12-cut version.
On Mondays from 11 a.m. to closing time (9 p.m.) and Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to closing time (9 p.m. on Fridays and 11 p.m. on Saturdays), you can enjoy a 14-inch Rosa with one topping for $8. There are 16 different toppings to choose from.
If Rosa isn't your taste, you can order a fancy white pizza that is prepared on fresh dough brushed with olive oil and roasted garlic and topped with Italian cheeses.
The menu doesn't stop there. There are several paninis also available, from Italian meatball ($8.49) to grilled Tuscan chicken (also $8.49). And don't forget stromboli forno ($10.99).
Lunch is served daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday though Friday. You'll see a separate menu for that, and although there are many similar menu items available for lunch as there are for dinner, you'll find a lighter fare for lunch, such as chicken Caesar salad, chopped insalata, grilled chicken and many of the same appetizers ranging from $7.49 to $10.49, and $8.49 for the salads.
Buy-one-get-one-free cheese pizzas are also offered for $4.99 from Monday through Friday for lunch only.
If late night is your choice, on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 11 p.m., you can enjoy a late night happy hour. Drafts are $1, house wines are $3, and selected appetizers are $5.
Suppose you are tired of the same old place for breakfast. The Italian Oven serves breakfast at 7 a.m. on weekends and 8 a.m. on weekdays. Choices include omelettes for $6.99, breakfast paninis, and "Village Breakfast" specials for $5.99 on weekends and $4.99 from Monday through Friday. A "Village Breakfast" includes two eggs, hash browns, a choice of bacon or sausage, and a choice of toast.
You can also order pancakes, French toast or a Belgian waffle for $5.99.
A take out menu is available.
Gary and I ended our meal on Thursday with a taste of tiramisu and Gary's favorite—pecan pie. Not to sound dramatic, but both were exquisite.
Italian Oven offers a catering service to the Pittsburgh area that includes picnics, tailgate parties and even small wedding receptions.
You can also reserve the restaurant's rear party room for a get-together, such as a birthday party, anniversary party or any other gathering. The party room has a 40-person capacity and a large flat-screen TV. You can either order off of the menu or have a buffet-style meal.
Dinner at the Italian Oven was a delightful evening in a pleasant atmosphere with exceptional service and a wide variety of meal choices that were both delicious and reasonably priced.
You can eat to your heart's content alone, as a couple, as a family or as a large group. And you can choose light meals or hearty ones. Hence, "Eat Better. Eat Well."
I was impressed, as was my husband, and we plan on frequenting this lovely restaurant in the heart of Whitehall many times in the near future. Won't you join us?