Cafe Spiazzo

5416 Parkcrest Dr, 459-9960
Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm.

When I was a kid, my mother, an avid cook, refused to make anything too ordinary for dinner. Alfalfa sprout- and green chile-topped "dobe burgers" with spicy mayonnaise were served in place of hamburgers, and one of my earliest encounters with pasta was spaghetti smothered with clam sauce, never meatballs! My upbringing on eclectic dishes became the topic of conversation one evening at Cafe Spiazzo when I chose black pepper liguine with clam sauce ($8.95) from the restaurant's widely varied menu and then attempted to explain my choice to dinner partners who were surprised by my selection.

Justification arrived with the dish -- a bowl of pasta sprinkled with steamed clams, onions, red peppers, garlic, and parsley. Aromatic and fresh, the pasta was moistened by a light sauce of white wine and olive oil, and I delighted in its simplicity. Although samples of the entrée didn't elicit unanimous "wows" from my friends, everyone did agree the pasta had all the trappings of comfort food -- quality ingredients and straightforward execution. Overwhelming approval went to a chalkboard special generously loaded with scallops, shrimp, mussels, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach in a Southwestern-inspired ancho-honey-lime-marsala sauce over jalapeño fettuccine. Although a marked departure from classic Italian, the flavors blended harmoniously. Cafe Spiazzo handles innovation well. In fact, the surprisingly intimate restaurant (given its strip-mall location) features an unusual assortment of traditional Italian favorites, more mod designer pizzas, and a number of unique "Italy SXSW" specialties.

The classic Sicilian caponata appetizer ($6.45), served with garlic baked until it's as smooth as butter, tangy goat cheese, and toasted slabs of rustic bread is an excellent, traditional way to begin a meal. More unusual is the Spicy Chipotle Cappellini entrée ($7.95/$9.95 with grilled chicken) in which Italian standbys such as mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, and whole garlic cloves are ignited by a smoky sauce of Southwestern fire. The pizza di pollo (7.95), a thin-crusted round spread with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto, mushrooms, red onions, cheese, and garlic cloves, proved to be enough for two to share, especially when accompanied by the cool tomatoes caprese salad ($4.95), a generous portion of ripe tomatoes and cubes of fresh, spongy mozzarella tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

The wine list at Cafe Spiazzo is relatively broad, although in a nod to Italian trattorias, the restaurant also serves an enjoyable house wine by the liter or half-liter. Desserts are ever-changing, as are pizza and pasta specials. And did I mention the festive, splatter-painted decor?

-- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle