Vince’s Ristorante: Pass the cannelloni

Vince’s Ristorante

8901 Elk Grove-Florin Rd.
Elk Grove, CA 95624

(916) 685-2161

In this seemingly soulless world of endlessly replicated Subways, Starbucks, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Pizza Huts and Denny’s, there is still Vince’s Ristorante.

Like ol’ Alfred Lord Tennyson says in “Ulysses”: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides,” and what abides here is a 50-year-old windowless brick edifice with green, white and red trim (the colors of Italy’s flag) with a pediment in front supported by two dark green Corinthian columns. A tall, white and cursive “Vince’s” adorns the wall to the right of the entrance.

Entering Vince’s it’s hard to ignore the vibe of being in some vanished Mad Men world, a tiny vestige of the pre-Laguna era Elk Grove where the population still hovered under 11,000, and there are no stoplights and plenty of tractor traffic. A place where a basket of saltines accompanies the minestrone or salad starter.

Most of the patrons appear to largely harken back to that era, too. On one visit, the apparent de riguer hair color is gray—except for one of the veteran waitresses who admits to recently dying her long ponytailed hair black.

“I’m a great-grandmother, I can do whatever I want,” she tells one customer.

The restaurant’s layout includes an elevated L of booths along two brick walls; the tables feature polished wood and plastic lace runners down the center. Wooden balusters with a white handrail sets the booths off from the rest of the dining area.

There’s some confusion in one patron’s mind as to whether this Vince’s is related to Vince’s Ristorante in West Sacramento, another long-serving Italian restaurant. Yes and no. Back when the earth cooled, two brothers-in-law, Victor Talani and Vincent Frugoli, decided to open a pizzeria. They tossed a coin to see whose name they would use. Victor lost. Pizzeria profits built West Sac’s Vince’s whose profits, in turn, created Elk Grove’s Vince’s.

Today, the West Sac eatery is run by another family. Elk Grove remains Talani territory.

Portions are prodigious and the prices relatively paltry. There are seven $6.95 lunch specials including lasagna, ravioli, manicotti and cannelloni as well as sausage and meatball sandwiches. Each is accompanied by minestrone or salad. A more-than-enough-for-two steak-and-shrimp dinner special costs $20. The standard cannelloni is $9.95. Vince’s chicken marsala—a specialty—is $10.95 at lunch. The dimensions that the servers approximate for the full steak sandwich, however, are woefully inadequate when it comes to describing its actual girth. Suffice to say, the half a steak sandwich is plenty: a lesson learned the hard way. The full order consists of two fillets—1-inch high by 3-inches wide—that crush two pieces of garlic bread. The rest of the platter is littered with—what else?—humongous steakhouse fries.

The salad is mundane—although recommended over the minestrone by Mary Ann, the friendly, albeit formal waitress. She likes blue cheese. The honey mustard and Italian are lighter. Regardless of dressing, it’s a bed of iceberg with six or seven kidney beans, around 10 garbanzos and between three and five sliced green beans. Red onions are readily brought, but it seems like they should be a natural to include in the first place.

While a bit incongruous, Vince’s taco salad—romaine for a change—offers a somewhat lighter choice, although this is a restaurant that is long on meat and carbs and, by no means, a vegan vacation getaway. The Alfredo sauce that adorns one half of the 12-inch by 4-inch plate of cannelloni—the other half buried in a hearty ground-beef-heavy marinara—is creamy and cheesy.

Attempt to clear the plate at your own peril. Stick with half-orders and leave space for the terrific tiramisu, made from a 75-year-old recipe of which Vince’s justifiably boasts.

Like West Sac’s The Club Pheasant Restaurant or the now shuttered Aldo’s, Vince’s is a delightful dinosaur.