The Quick Bite
The Restaurant: Old Venice Pizza Co.
The General Manager: Jaime Davis
Soup — Crawfish Chowder
Appetizers — Crawfish rolls
Blackened Salmon Flatbread
Entrees — Lucky Luciano Pizza
Creole Delight Pasta
Desserts — Tiramisu
Bananas Foster Cheesecake
The first thing I saw when doing my homework on Old Venice Pizza Co. was this phrase: “Eclectic Italian with a touch of Southern Creole.” Scroll down a little bit more on the website, and we get more details; their house dishes are “prepared with Creole and Mediterranean influences.” I did some thinking on this. See if you agree with my math. (And by the way, my father was a math professor at the local university, and I took four semesters of unnecessary calculus myself, so take heed before questioning my mad math skills.)
Here’s my equation: a Mediterranean diet is good for heart health. Creole food has a definite French influence and history, and the French citizenry maintain a healthy weight by eating rich foods in moderation. Therefore, after a bowl of Crawfish Chowder and a small Lucky Luciano pizza at Old Venice I could argue that I had a healthy meal. Throw in a slice of Bananas Foster Cheesecake – not Italian or Creole, but rich with calcium-laden dairy and potassium-packed fruit – and the Mediterranean-French Creole Fusion Diet Book is practically written. And all of that right in the heart of Main Street Starkville.
If you are getting a different answer to that equation at home, don’t worry. Just read the moderation chapter in that soon-to-be-bestseller. Fortunately for us, the folks taking care of us at Old Venice this week threw moderation to the Sirocco wind and we ate for a long, long time. Let’s get to the food.
We began with one of their signature dishes: the Crawfish Rolls. According to General Manager Jaime Davis, this appetizer has been on the menu since the early days of the restaurant. First, onion, pepper and garlic are sautéed, then a little bacon is added. Crawfish tails and shrimp come next along with a three cheese blend that he wouldn’t divulge. All that is rolled up in an egg roll wrap, fried and served with a spicy remoulade sauce. The little kick in the sauce was a great complement to the creamy secret cheese in the roll. That was the warm and spicy side of the plate. On the fresh and cool side was a Bruschetta with tomato relish (including olive oil and garlic), strips of basil, feta cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze – kind of a Caprese salad with a nod to the Greek side of the Mediterranean.
Before we even arrived I told The Wife about the house made Crawfish Chowder. I was secretly hoping we would get at least a cup of it, and it was the next dish to arrive. I’ve had this before, and it won second place at this year’s Souperbowl competition just down the street. It is sinfully rich, but not so much that you don’t want to eat the whole bowl. We left a few spoonfuls only because we knew there was more to come.
What I didn’t know existed was the ginormous Macaroni Ball that followed the chowder. About the size of a big grapefruit, this was a mound of macaroni and cheese that had been coated with a panko bread crumb mixture (with a little Parmesan and seasoning), deep fried, and set on a bed of marinara sauce. This is not yet on the menu, but Jaime assured me that it was available to order. Don’t be surprised if you see other emanations of this big ball of fun food – apparently the kitchen staff already has some great ideas on new varieties.
Next out was the Blackened Salmon Flatbread. (You may have already noticed, if you’re in a group of eaters that prefer to make a meal out of several small plates/appetizers, Old Venice is certainly a good place to do it.) The base of this dish begins its life as a pizza crust, layered with ricotta cheese (melted), bites of blackened salmon, spring mix greens, cranberries, pecans and a drizzle of house made lemon aioli. It was appealing to the eyes and the tastebuds; the combination of the spicy notes from the blackening seasoning and the sweetness of the cranberries danced in a nice rhythm.
The final appetizer to come our way was Dynamite Shrimp: breaded in seasoned flour, fried, then coated with Dynamite Sauce (another secret recipe). I was expecting this to be more heat than I could handle, but I was pleasantly surprised. It had a punch for sure, but not enough to scare me away from wanting more.
Ready for some entree’s? We were ready in the sense that we hadn’t had any yet. Not ready because we were any kind of hungry. But hungry is never really a factor for my appetite when pizza is involved. Old Venice was actually started by a couple of guys “slinging pizza out of a garage” and has evolved into the broad menu it offers today. Pizza is where they started, however, and they still do it well. I am usually the kind of pizza-orderer that likes to build his own, and they can do that. Tonight we just let Jaime choose for us, and I have learned that it is sometimes good to let someone else pick your pizza. The Wife’s favorite was The Sicilian: giant slices of salami and chunks of Italian sausage were anchored to the crust with mozzarella cheese, with a few pepperoncini slices tossed around for extra heat. My attention turned more to the Lucky Luciano. I don’t know who Luciano is, but I’m going to make up my own story and say it was Pavarotti – he looked like the kind of guy who knew his pizza. This one also had Italian sausage, strips of red pepper, and big chunks of meatballs, plus some parmesan and a sprinkling of oregano. I would have never ordered meatballs on a pizza before this. Shame on me.
The Creole Delight Pasta was a great example of the eclectic Italian with a touch of Creole. Shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, and the seasoning in the Alfredo sauce made up the Creole side, and the fettuccine pasta (of course) kept it semi-Italian.
Just a quick word about the desserts. Most Italian restaurants offer Tiramisu, as they should, and Old Venice is no exception. Despite all we had already eaten, we just about demolished the Tiramisu. My favorite dessert, however, was the Bananas Foster Cheesecake with the caramel drizzle. And don’t forget: you can call that healthy if you just use your imagination.
Next time you go, you might notice that much of what we ate is not actually on the menu. But don’t let that stop you from ordering any of it. The kitchen staff and servers enjoy trying new things; if they have the ingredients, they will give it their best.
Jaime started off the night with this question: “Do you trust me?” I threw in my “no coconut” disclaimer, and assured him anything else would be great. It was a good decision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Starkville native, Jay Reed, is pharmacist by day and inquisitive eater by
night any time. He writes regularly for Starkville Daily News and Eat. Drink. Mississippi., and publishes a blog entitled Eats One Ate.