“We go through a lot of meatballs,” David “Duke” Tozzi said, chuckling.
Duke and his wife, Dina, part of the family that operated Tozzi’s Italian Restaurant in Magnolia for nearly 100 years, opened Tozzi’s Downtown in the former Fedeli, with its hideaway entrance on the alleylike Court Avenue.
If customers ask for his recommendation, Duke steers them toward ordering spaghetti on the side.
“I always suggest the filet with a side of spaghetti or linguine, or the lasagna,” he said. “We sell a lot of lasagna — twice as much as we did in Magnolia.”
And no wonder. The imposingly tall cube of lasagna is tender yet hearty, with melding, complementary flavors. And there’s no skimping on the flavorful yet light ricotta filling, nor on the meat.
The iceberg lettuce salad that accompanies all meals can be elevated to gourmet by the addition of the housemade blue cheese dressing, creamy and so thick with tangy blue cheese that it nearly has to be spread on the salad with a knife.
Soups change daily, but based on my sampling are always a good bet. I particularly enjoyed the beanless chili, which might have been mild for some palates, but allowed me to discern and enjoy the peppers, onions, tomatoes and beef. The vichyssoise — a creamy, thick-without- being-thickened potato soup — was delicious as well, but I would have liked to taste more leek (or even onion) in it. The presentation was pleasing, with the bowl of chilled soup nestled in a larger bowl of ice, and strips of green leek floating on top like spokes in a wheel.
Entrees include penne with vodka arrabiata sauce, chicken parmesan, and pasta primavera with bell peppers, Hungarian peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, spinach and feta over linguine.
Although Tozzi’s is known for Italian dishes and steaks with a crust of hand-rubbed seasonings, I found myself most enamored with a seafood special.
Two thick cod fillets were wrapped in bacon, then skillfully cooked until the bacon was starting to crisp and the fish was still juicy.
The smokiness of the bacon permeated the cod, which was placed atop a mound of spaghetti. The plate was artfully decorated with alternating swirls of red and white sauce. The meal included a side dish of haricots verts, slim green beans tossed with equally slim slices of roasted red pepper. If I had a vote, I would nominate this meal to move from the specials list to the regular menu.
Tozzi’s offers an appealing wine list with a price range for all wallets, but if you’re up for something different, try the Moretti La Rossa Italian beer. This reddish-brown brew, with a hint of caramel and chocolate, pairs well with steaks, chops and Tozzi’s seared salmon or grilled tuna.
The dessert list changes periodically, but usually includes a cheesecake, the chocolate torte and the popular Magnolia Mud Pie, a cookie crust topped with ice cream and melted fudge sauce.
Tozzi’s is open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays, with salads, soups, sandwiches and specials. The chicken salad, studded with dried cherries and cashews, sounds tempting, but Tozzi recommends the Shamrock Deli, a take on the Reuben.
Fiery fried Hungarian peppers topped the sandwich, and the corned beef was very tender, despite being rather thickly sliced. My favorite part of the sandwich was the freshly made coleslaw. Crisp, coarsely cut cabbage — rather than a drippy dressing — was the star here.
Duke and Dina Tozzi, who also own Picciano’s Martini Lounge at 410 Market Ave. N in downtown Canton, hope to reopen the Magnolia Tozzi’s, which was damaged in a fire in 2011. When the couple opened Tozzi’s Downtown in the two-story former Fedeli in February, they wisely opted not to make many changes.
“We always liked the space,” Tozzi said. “The only real change was downstairs. We took out their back bar and exposed all the brick behind the wall. We built oak shelving and have our whisky bottles up there. It’s real rustic looking.”
Service the night I visited was swift but not hurried, and friendly but not bothersome. Tozzi admits that service can get stressed on First Fridays, when the restaurant is mobbed. He recommends First Friday visitors who don’t want a whole meal consider ordering the appetizer sampler platter, which includes two of their popular meatballs.
218 Court Ave.NW, Canton
OPEN FOR LUNCH: Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Price: $8-$10.
OPEN FOR DINNER: 5-9 p.m.Tuesday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
MUSIC: Live jazz Friday and Saturday evenings.
MENU: Soup of the day: cup $3, bowl $5
Appetizer platter, two meatballs, fried peppers, pepperoni, garlic toast $13
Shamrock Deli sandwich, side dish $8
6-ounce filet mignon, salad, side, garlic bread $22
Grilled ahi tuna with lime cilantro rice, vegetables, salad $24
Lasagna, salad, garlic bread $14
Penne with vodka arrabiata and chicken or shrimp $19
Lobster linguine $24
Magnolia Mud Pie $7