Yes, it’s still open much to the surprise if you were to go back and talk to yourself from just this last spring. This longtime staple on Clairemont Ave is still open it’s regular hours and serving up their standard fare several months after putting a prominent “For Sale” sign out from…and several weeks removed from taking that same sign down.
A quick reminder, the family put the building (not the restaurant itself) on the market late in the winter of 2021. The publicly stated idea was to sell the land, shutdown the restaurant and narrow all focus on Za51 at River Prairie. Fast forward ahead and there is no shortage of rumors as to what the actuality was. A few say a deal is in the works. Many others say the it was a rouse, meant as a marketing ploy (make people fear it was leaving) or as a way to make employees feel grateful and stop turnover. A rumored exorbitant asking price (one in which you either get rich, or are happy not to sell) only fuels that speculation.
Regardless, the place is open for business and remains a throwback to the dining of the 1980s and 1990s, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.
Ordered: Capellini w/ meatballs
Price: $69 for family of four
Entrée’: The Hungry Italian went with the significant other and a couple of bambinos on a Thursdays night. The restaurant, despite it being prime dinner time of 6pm, was lacking in business. The restaurant is broken in two, with a lounge area that features a sit down bar (old school, but very comfortable and honestly preferably to bar stools) and the main dining room that has a few booths mixed with table seating. The restaurant was perhaps at 25% capacity, with most of that being one large group that appeared to be one big family getting together.
The truth is, this is a good thing because it takes no time to realize this restaurant is under-staffed, an issue many places are faced with. However, the lack of staffing was never an issue on this night (with a caveat to come) as service was relatively prompt and solid.
Now, a word of advice. Nosh on a little something before heading to Draganetti’s and also plan for this to be a longer dining experience. This is not a “turn-and-burn” operation with the service at the present time. It’ll take you some time to get food, but if you’ve had some fruit or crackers before going you won’t be “HANGRY” and use the time to engage in conversation and enjoy the experience.
The interior is a throwback to a generation ago. Outside of a tv in the lounge area, there isn’t anything to distract a diner. It’s a very dark dining room, lit mostly by Christmas lighting (even during non-holiday times). It’s a designer’s nightmare in 2021 (or 2001 for that matter) but again this is a place where conversation and taking your time is paramount to having a good experience.
The menu remains significantly pared down from what it once was. This is a drawback as options are very limited. Basically it’s either pasta or pizza. Questions remain as to how fresh some of the items are as well. On a couple of occasions (this last trip included), the bambinos couldn’t get milk to drink for they were out. With more than a few white sauces on the menu, it brings to attention…how are they making those. Even with a cream base, some milk is necessary for texture and flavor.
Either way, the Hungry Italian went basic with capellini (between spaghetti and angel hair pasta) with meatballs. The red sauce is sweet and savory and overall fantastic. The pasta and meatballs both are good. They don’t make your tongue slap the roof of your mouth, but they are good. The bambinos got a cheese pizza to share. This is okay. It tasted identical to a “Mama Celeste” frozen pizza…IDENTICAL. Not that it’s bad, it’s pretty good, but nothing special.
An appetizer order of garlic bread with cheese is underwhelming for being $9.
Second Helping? Probably, since Italian offerings in a true Italian-eatery setting are so few and far between. Draganetti’s is frustrating in that there are things to like but at the same time items that frustrate (like the $9 appetizer). One can’t help but think when at the restaurant this last time, how much effort is there? Not the staff, they were great, but how much does the family care at this point. Personally, Draganetti’s…even at it’s worst…remains 100% better than Za51 and that concept but the family has gone all in.
Final Score: 2 out of 5 cheese curds