Usually I cook up something special on Wednesday evenings. This week we’re all too tired to cook. Partly it’s the week (last week of quarter at work) and partly it’s the heat. So when PJ called to say she was hungry and she had Miss D in tow, I knew I had to come up with a plan fast. A quick search found some options, and I called her back to let her choose.
The winner: It’s Italian over in Wells Branch.
For those who don’t know, Wells Branch is their own kind of little town, right in the middle of north Austin. With their own government, a MUD. And their own way of living. Including having quite a good number of local eateries. It’s Italian is one of those neighborhood places, and it’s been in business quite a while now.
It’s Italian isn’t located on one of the big roads. Oh, it’s not hard to find, but you have to go out into the subdivision to get there. Which is okay. That begins to set the tone: Not the “big lights, big city,” but rather “relaxing with friends and family.” We were ready for that in a big way. Anything to slow down and lower the blood pressure.
We got there for the early dinner seating and were promptly greeted and seated. There’s room for about fifty diners when the restaurant is stuffed full. Mostly square tables with four chairs, a couple of larger seating areas, and a couple of two-seat tables for romantic dinners. No booths. The area is clean with fair lighting (the curtains were drawn against the bright, early evening sunshine); a mixture of painted stucco and brick with some tile. Quite a few nice pictures on the wall, all of Italian advertisements. They look like 19th and early 20th century items, in color and very eye-catching. Not a cluttered space; soothing. You can see a little bit of the kitchen from most of the tables. Even that doesn’t seem to be chaotic, although there were only a few tables busy at the time we arrived, so maybe that’s not a fair appraisal.
PJ said the dining area was a bit warm for her tastes, and she found that distracting. I didn’t notice, so it wasn’t terribly warm. (Next time I’ll have her leave the hoodie and parka in the car. In all fairness, it was well over 100° outside.) She also said she would prefer takeout next time. It’s Italian can do that, of course, and that’s a nice option if you want to be Even More Comfortable when eating supper.
We ordered drinks, tea and sodas, and then looked the menu over. Entrée prices show in the $8 (basic spaghetti) to near $20 range (sophisticated specialty dishes), with a couple of steak offerings slightly above $20. Plenty of wine and beer choices. A good selection of dishes on an unpretentious listing.
I chatted a moment with Tim Hunter, the owner. He’s a pleasant fellow. He’s also the most trusting restaurateur I’ve ever heard of! Stores beer and wine on a metro rack in the men’s room. (Next time, I’ll sneak in an opener and a straw. Just Kidding!)
On to the food! We chose to sample Tim’s Bruschetta. Very nice! Plenty of sliced fresh grape tomatoes, minced basil, very fresh mozzarella cheese. Large wedges of crunchy bread. Olive oil, garlic. All artfully arranged on a small flat plate. A wonderful balsamic vinegar glaze garnish was drizzled over the top; that gave the dish great eye appeal and a marvelous aroma. This dish proved to me that Tim values all the phases of quality cooking, from fresh ingredients to taste and eye appeal.
Miss D ordered spaghetti with meatballs, a nice way to check out a place on a first visit. Her interpretation of the dish: Nicely thick sauce, not runny (as some places may serve). They allowed substitution to angel hair pasta without an extra charge. The pasta was al dente, properly dressed and plentiful. Only two meatballs, though. (Miss D wanted more.)
Paula Jo wanted comfort food, and simple spaghetti with meat sauce met her needs. Yes, it’s the same as Miss D’s, but without the meatballs. She noted that it was plentifully garnished with shaved, not grated, Parmigiano cheese, right off the block; a value topping, in my opinion.
I sprang for the Veal Parmigiana. (That’s my test-meal for an Italian place I’ve never visited before.) The plate arrived sporting a good sized cutlet, properly coated in sauce and cheese, then placed under the broiler until cheese is toasty with some nice char spots (Not a lot of that, it wouldn’t be tasty. Just enough!) Tim obviously knows how to use a broiler well! The side of spaghetti was properly dressed with butter, oil, plenty of garlic and some fresh herbs. I was surprised there wasn’t some other garnish on the dish, given the attractive presentation of the bruschetta. The eye-appeal wasn’t really lacking, though, and the aroma was quite nice.
With table bread and butter, we had a pleasant and relaxing, home-cooked style Italian meal. In all, we felt It’s Italian gave a good, everyday Italian dining experience. Not a fine dining affair, and it doesn’t pretend to be that. It’s Italian is a welcoming space; no pressure, no hype, no loud noises or distracting backgrounds for the eyes and ears.
It’s Italian is one of Wells Branch’s homey little secrets, and it works that way. We’ll be back, maybe to sample their hand-thrown pizza (or perhaps try their takeout next)…
It’s Italian, 14735 Bratton Ln, Austin, TX 78728. Phone 512.252.1444. Moderately priced casual Italian, six days a week: Monday-Saturday, 5:00 PM to 9:30 PM. Reservations not required, although a large party should call ahead and check. Kid-friendly, including pizza deals and kid’s meals on Monday. Beer and wine on sale. Takeout available, no delivery.
Enjoy the (Mirabile Bentornato) Heat!
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