I’ve had several people recommend that I visit Villa Nova, and I’ve read mostly positive reviews about the restaurant, so I decided to finally pay this north side institution a visit. After opening in 1978, Villa Nova has become known as a mom and pop Italian restaurant offering comforting home style pasta dishes just like grandma used to make (assuming your grandmother is Italian).
The restaurant’s decor is a treat, with walls adorned with copper kettles, barometers, posters of the Mona Lisa and other doodads. It’s the same type of kitsch that can be found on the walls of Olive Garden or Buca di Beppo, but it certainly felt less contrived than the mass produced walls of the chain counterparts.
Service at Villa Nova was friendly and prompt. And the beginning of the meal started off ok…
The Hodge Podge ($7.50) is a sampler that contains a variety of items from the heavily deep fried appetizer menu. It includes mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower and onion rings and is served with a side of ranch dressing. The onion rings and mushrooms were fairly standard fried food, and the zucchini I actually enjoyed. The side of ranch was pretty generic, as was the cauliflower.
Villa Nova’s breadsticks (included with meals) are buttery, garlicky and salty. The bread is served warm, rendering it perfectly soft. While I couldn’t find too much to distinguish these breadsticks from your average chain variety, I did think that they were a decent enough offering.
Here’s where things started to head downhill. The Italian Wedding Soup ($3.50 cup / $3.95 bowl) was so heavy on the chicken stock and so light on other flavors, that it more closely resembled a bowl of chicken noodle soup. There were small chunks of shredded chicken, but there was a complete lack of sausage or meatballs that typically define the composition of this dish. Overall, a disappointing rendition.
The Side Salad ($3.50 or included with pasta entrees) was a very basic serving of chilled iceberg lettuce mix and some croutons. The French dressing on the side was a generous portion. Nothing special here, just your standard variety side salad.
The “Famous” (according to the menu) Spaghetti with Homemade Meatballs ($10.95) was a large plate of flat noodles, two large meatballs and a heaping helping of pasta sauce. The sauce was overly sweet and devoid of much seasoning; essentially tasting only of tomatoes and sugar. The meatballs were slightly above average, tender and moist but again without much in the way of spices or flavors beyond cooked ground beef. The noodles were overcooked and lifeless. A sprinkling of fresh Mozarella might have helped, but wouldn’t have been enough to salvage this dish.
The Manicotti ($10.95) is three tubes of pasta filled with ricotta cheese and completely buried under tomato sauce and melted cheese. I initially thought this was the wrong dish when it arrived at the table, since I was unable to see any of the noodles. Once again, the sauce was overly sweet, and the melted cheese was a greasy unappetizing mess. The noodles were unevenly baked with some portions being dry and hard while other portions were soft and moist. Manicotti is not a complex dish, and this felt completely thrown together without a whole lot of thought about flavor.
Columbus was a much different city in 1978 when Villa Nova opened for business, and the Columbus dining scene was much more limited in scope and scale. It feels like nothing has changed on the inside of Villa Nova in over 30 years, while everything has changed outside of it. I imagine that anyone who has fond memories of this place that date back to earlier times will continue to forgive the lackluster food (and will mostly likely give me an earful for not enjoying it). But as a newcomer to Villa Nova, I have no warm fuzzies embedded that allow me to overlook these things.
Another one of the big issues I have with Villa Nova is the pricing. The main pasta entrees all range between $11 and $13. Which doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but I’ve found that you can get much better food for only a few dollars more at places like Tony’s Italian Ristorante (pasta entrees starting at $13), Martini Modern Italian (pasta entrees starting at $15), Marcella’s (pasta entrees starting at $13), Due Amici (pasta entrees starting at $12) or even Basi Italia (pasta entrees starting at $17). With most of those examples, you’re only spending two or three extra dollars, but receiving a much higher quality plate of food.
I’ve heard better reports from the bar side of the business. While I’ve not tried out their bar, I would recommend skipping dinner and heading over there for a drink if you plan to visit. Otherwise, there are too many better options for Italian food in Columbus for to me to be able to recommend anyone eating here.
Villa Nova is located at 5545 North High Street, near Worthington. It’s open Sunday through Thursday from 11am to 11pm and Friday & Saturday from 11am to Midnight. More information can be found online at www.villanovacolumbus.com.