Fried Calamari #2When I think of Italian food, I think of red sauce simmering in a big pot on the stove or “Sunday gravy,” as real Italians call it. I also think of the warmth and comfort and feelings of family that are so evocative in Italian food and culture.

I am not Italian nor was I raised in an Italian household. Growing up, my exposure to Italian cuisine was a thin meat sauce made from a packet of McCormick’s spaghetti sauce mix served over spaghetti. My father despised the dish, and now I know why.

I fell in love with real Italian food when I was a young Navy pilot deployed to Italy in the mid-1980s. When we weren’t tracking Soviet submarines in the Mediterranean, we were tearing around the Italian countryside in a beat-up Fiat 124 looking for our next fix of pasta and vino. While the food was great, the welcoming environs and that feeling of family were even greater.

Nowadays, when I want to feel like I’m part of an Italian family and get my fix of Sunday gravy, I travel to Alfredo’s on Cheshire Bridge Road. You feel right at home when you walk in this place: the dark wood, the white tablecloths, the dim lighting, the doting host, the brigade of red-vest-clad waiters. There’s always a crowd, and on most weekend nights there’s a line out the door. Alfredo’s does take reservations and easily accommodated our party of nine, out for a special birthday party.

Our waiter immediately descended upon our table serving surprisingly good garlic bread and an assortment of pickled vegetables. You want to know the specials? You want some wine? You want some appetizers? The man in the red vest is at your disposal, and will not leave until someone gives him guidance as to how he can begin making you happy.

We ordered a couple of carafes of the house chianti and several appetizers for the table. They have a decent-sized Italian wine list, and also offer several Italian beers and a full bar as well.

The appetizers arrived quickly. The mussels in white wine were perfectly done with lots of fresh garlic and Italian parsley. The fried calamari was light and crispy with a spicy Fra Diavolo sauce. The fried mozzarella was a hit; it’s a large gooey wedge served with a good Sunday gravy.

The breast of chicken Cacciatore was pure comfort food. It was what my Italian grandmother would make if I had an Italian grandmother. The chicken was surprisingly juicy to be just breast meat, and the Sunday gravy was rich with plum tomatoes, mushrooms, red peppers, onions and herbs.

The half portion of eggplant Parmigiana hung off the plate. The delicately fried vegetable was not swimming in sauce and cheese, but rather had the right balance of ingredients as to highlight the delicate, yet hearty, dish.

The breast of chicken al pesto was excellent, sautéed in pounded basil, pine nuts and butter, and served in a creamy garlic sauce.

The Snapper Casalinga was a large portion of fresh fish. It was broiled and served with a tart lemon butter and white wine sauce that slightly overpowered the fish. The accompanying sautéed spinach was garlicky with a hint of smokiness.

The veal dishes were very good. The Padrino or Godfather, is a trio of three veal preparations, Francese, Marsala and Parmigian. All were faithful representations of these classic dishes. The veal Saltimbocca was supposed to be prepared with white wine, but tasted of Marsala wine instead, which made the dish a bit cloying.

An assortment of Italian desserts was served in honor of the “birthday boy,” and the waiters and several adjoining tables serenaded with “Happy Birthday.” The desserts were all authentic, with the cannoli being the star.

Alfredo’s serves good Italian food, but it excels at providing exceptional service, a welcoming atmosphere, and those feelings of warmth and comfort that are at the heart of what Italian really means.

Alfredo’s is located at 1989 Cheshire Bridge Road. For more information, call 404-876-1380 or visit alfredosatlanta.com.

Art Huckabee is one of Yelp’s Elite Reviewers, as well as a pilot, gourmet cook and food lover. Send feedback to atlantafoodwriter@gmail.com.

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