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Monday, July 28, 2008

Road Food: Texarkana - great Italian food if you can find it

Texarkana is a sad and soul-diminishing place on both sides of State Line Avenue in AR and TX. State Line Avenue is obviously the state line between Texas and Arkansas and the main street of Texarkana unless you count I-30. The county on the Texas side is dry, meaning no off-sale liquor, beer or wine. The Arkansas side is not. The Arkansas side of the street has a full service liquor store with drive-thru about every other building from 4th Street downtown until you hit I-30 about 50 blocks north.

Despite the hangdog look of the city they did seem to have an inordinate amount of federal highway money building overpasses and such that we couldn't quite figure out where they were headed or why they were needed. Everything looks pretty good along I-30 but if you go downtown, where I spent every day, it was like some TV ad where a guy is outside shouting about cheap sandwiches in black and white and he finally realizes he's the only guy there. He sits happily down to a sandwich but sadly breaks his jaw on a bit of rubble and weeps.

There were a few decent places to eat in Texarkana should you find yourself in such a fix you couldn't make it to Dallas or New Orleans or Little Rock or even Shreveport. The BBQ is good. It's about all they eat down there. I had some complaints after a couple of stops but if you limit yourself to getting the smoked rib tips you'll be really happy.

Shockingly, the best Italian food I've had in quite awhile happened to be in Texarkana. My colleague liked to get out and smoke and walk around downtown and on Wednesday we saw a place called Via Roma in one of the very few storefronts in Texarkana's downtown that looked open for business.

I finally pushed him into going there for lunch the next day and he was happy I did so. Via Roma is a little Italian place in downtown Texarkana. It is real Italian, not Olive Garden or Grisanti's or even Vincenzo's or whatever. There was an old Italian guy in the kitchen running his family restaurant in freakin' Texarkana.

First thing, the server dropped a basket of warm garlic bread in front of us. No big deal until he set the tapenade next to it. I've made tapenades and loved tapenades but I've never been to a place where the tapenade was free. It was made of olives and garlic and anchovies and capers and it was freakishly delicious. I could have made a meal of the bread and tapenade. My friend and I polished it off pretty quickly but a refill was always coming.

We did order entrees. I had the linguini with puttanesca sauce (garlic tomato sauce sauteed with anchovies, black olives and capers) and shrimp. My friend had the special which seemed to be the local special, tilapia, and it was really really good but nothing compared to my linguini puttanesca.

We were both so happy about our lunch we decided to go back to our hotel room and think about it for awhile. That night as we were taking our last tour of Texarkana looking for something to do we drove by Via Roma and it was obvious they were doing well.

Why can't there be a small, authentic Italian restaurant in Lincoln? I've eaten dinners in about 30 different cities in the past year and Lincoln always pales in comparison to any town half its size when it comes to this kind of food.

I'm really, really glad that Lincoln has the great Vietnamese and Mexican food it does for a city its size but I've never had an Italian meal like I had in Texarkana.


Blogger Chris said...

"Why can't there be a small, authentic Italian restaurant in Lincoln?"

Because people are scared to eat something other that spag and meatballs, lasagna and pizza.

A quick poll of "What is putanesca?" would probably get some hilarious answers.

Sigh, I too miss good Italian in Lincoln. Tony and Luigi's and their prior "Italian Village" were darn good.

This winter I'll be making Italian for my blog. Lidia Bastianich is one of my fav's.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Mr. T said...

Anyone here ever been to the Caffe Italia near Leon's Grocery?

9:07 PM  
Anonymous foxspit said...

Sounds like the place I ate at in Little Italy on a trip to San Diego. Let's pool our money and import an Italian family to move here and open a restaurant.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

I've eaten at Caffe Italia, but only for lunch. Their panini sandwiches are good and reasonably adventurous. If I remember right, their menu is basically sandwiches and salads. Never gotten the coffee, so I can't comment on that.

I was slightly underwhelmed by the cheese plate we got, but the pears accompanying it were delicious. It's been at least a year since I've been there, and this reminds me that I should check in again.

For a while they were doing fixed menu (is that the right term?) dinners, but we never made it over to try them.

7:34 PM  

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