At the three-year anniversary party for Valenza Pasta, Steve Barzizza was exuberant. While others at the Midtown grocery sipped Cabernet and filled their plates with ravioli, meatballs, and Italian cheeses, Barzizza shopped with glee, spending $100 before the evening was over.
"I'm cooking for my aunts this weekend," Barzizza exclaimed, swinging open the door of a refrigerated case. "We are going to have a feast." So what did Barzizza serve two days later? Imported prosciutto from the Volpi Meat Company in St. Louis and pumpkin ravioli with sage sauce, pine nuts, and a little bit of butter. "The consistency of the ravioli at Valenza is perfect -- not too thick, not too thin," Barzizza said. "You can taste the love and care that goes into it."
Barzizza, draft manager with Southwestern beverage distributors, grew up helping out at Barzizza Brothers, his father's Italian grocery in downtown Memphis. Yet despite his proclivity for Italian fare, he had missed Valenza Pasta until recently, when he stopped by the shop at McLean and Madison after a nearby meeting.
"The place was wonderful," Barzizza said. "It had the same feel, the same personalized service, as my dad's store."
Owner Kathey Cianciola is hoping more new customers discover Valenza, which also sells prepared foods (pesto basil chicken lasagna with spinach and mushrooms), specialty groceries (French green lentils and gourmet cannelloni beans), and a heady assortment of dry pastas (lemon chive, roasted red pepper, and "Scarborough Fair," made with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme).
New pasta combinations also are being introduced to celebrate the grocery's anniversary, including recipes suggested by customers, such as "Marcia's Puccini Mushroom."
"We have a suggestion box in the store for recipes," Cianciola said. "If we use your recipe for a new product, your name will be on it forever."
Valenza Pasta, 14 N. McLean,
Celtic Crossing, the Irish pub and restaurant in Cooper-Young, also is celebrating an anniversary with 30 new menu items developed from family recipes and trips abroad.
"This is the first revamp of our menu in three years," said owner D.J. Naylor. "We've included lots of traditional Irish cooking, and we've thrown in a bit of Scottish and English too."
The pub's mild English curry, for instance, is made with paste instead of powder and comes with a generous heap of steak fries. Other new appetizers include Celtic croquettes (mashed potatoes with red onion and cheddar) and baked goat-cheese dip served with a dollop of marinara and a sprinkling of almonds.
Irish comfort food makes a splash on the menu too: meatloaf, lamb chops, and four different kinds of pot pies. Irish boxty, a potato pancake originally from Irelands north Midlands, also debuts in three varieties: steak and onion, chicken, and corned beef.
"Boxty is a very old Irish dish that is having a tremendous resurgence in Dublin, so we decided to bring it to the Bluff City," Naylor said.
Customers interested in Celtic's new dinner menu might stop by for lunch instead. Every week, one dinner entrée is being offered as a $7 lunch special. While there, be sure to pick up the pub's take-out menu, which includes a coupon for a complimentary bottle of wine along with food listings.
Celtic Crossing, 903 S. Cooper,
Woodlands Indian Vegetarian Cuisine has been open only three months, but on a recent Friday evening, every table was full. Apparently, no one is missing the meat at Woodlands, whose sister restaurant in Nashville has been rated the best Indian food in Tennessee.
"We think every city needs at least one Indian vegetarian restaurant," said manager Madsu Neik. "It takes time to build up business, because for most people this type of food is something new to try."
While the restaurant's extensive menu (over 100 selections!) includes dishes indigenous to Bombay and Indo-China, most of the food is Udupi, a vegetarian cuisine from southern Indian that skips meat, fish, shellfish, onions, and garlic in favor of grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
"Dosa is very popular," Neik said, explaining the thin rice crepes served with sambar and chutney. Customers love the combination of flavors."
Woodlands is open seven days a week and serves a lunch buffet in addition to dinner. If you want to drink alcohol, be sure to bring your own. Or better yet, try a mango milkshake or Indian tea with milk and spices.
Woodlands Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, 4205 Hacks Cross,
by Pamela Denney