13825 FM 2769 (aka Volente Road),
"Due to nonpayment of tabs, there will be no more tabs" -- sign on Roscoe's counter
Roscoe's Italian Kitchen at the Lake is the kind of place that people who care about atmosphere -- and I don't mean appearances -- dream of. It's the perfect antidote to lakeside dining: ordering in a bait shop, then moving to the back room to eat, a room with low ceilings and not a breath of fresh air to speak of, tacked onto the back of the tiny convenience store. Portraits of Italian families hang on walls with nary a window among them. The predictable irony, of course, is food better than anything you'll pay twice as much for at showpiece placea with a stunning view on an actual lake.
The owners ran an Italian restaurant in Dallas before coming to Central Texas. When they moved to Austin, Roscoe's is what they could afford. Lake business was bad the first year because of the drought. The next year, it was the floods. Now it's drought again. But even if next year it's something still more dramatic -- locusts? -- things will get better for Roscoe's because the locals know a great hamburger when they get their lips around one. With the exception of a passable pizza, we were fairly dazzled by everything we tried, including that hamburger, and a meatball sub with provolone and roasted red peppers.
The Roscoe's at the lake is closed for this season, but a second location has just opened on Manor Road. It has different owners, but the recipes are the same. Again, the atmosphere's a little wacky -- to the degree that it doesn't actually seem like a restaurant -- however, the prices are low, portions are large, the service is more than servicable, and the Italian-American food is hearty and, by Texas standards, exceptional. And you can get a glass of wine.
The Antipasto Salad ($5.95) has rolled slices of provolone and salami, nice olives, quadrants of artichokes hearts, and a ring of pepperoni and pieces of tomato and pepperoncini on green leaf lettuce. It is a relief to know of the availability of such a salad.
The Italian Beef Sandwich ($4.95) was too large to pick up -- a fine pile of roast beef with sautéed green and red peppers, garlic, onion, and mushrooms atop it was smothered in delicious cheese. Under it all, the buttered bun played little more than a supporting role, and that rather poorly. In fact, every bread item we tried at Roscoe's (including the anchovy bread, which was outrageously salty even for an item boasting anchovies) was based on this lowly form of starch that seemed as if it came from a bin in one of the major supermarkets. The fact that they even offer whole wheat is a dead giveaway that they need advice in the bread department. The restaurant would do well to invest in a different caliber of roll, but otherwise, the sandwiches, including the Sweet Italian Sausage Sub ($3.95), were outstanding -- there was enough going on there that the bread didn't detract as much as it might have.
The red sauce at Roscoe's is a smooth, sweetish affair with hints of fennel and plenty of garlic. It's the basis for the Traditional Lasagna ($6.95), a well-done composition of both form and flavor, with finely ground sweet Italian sausage and plenty of cheese. My Eggplant Parmagiana ($6.95) was almost inscrutably put together, with a coarse-chopped garlicky sauce of tomatoes and onions concealed under mozzarella and pieces of provolone. It was a delicious melange, and beneath it all were the croquettes of sweet and creamy eggplant.
I had assumed that the eggplant would come with a side of spaghetti, and when it didn't, I requested one. It arrived immediately, but it had been cooked beforehand and didn't fare as well as promptly cooked spaghetti would have. However, I would have been through with the meal by the time that arrived.
Desserts at Roscoe's include patriotic spumoni from Dolce Vita, Cappucino pie, and fresh-made cannolis with a chocolate/ricotta mixture (all are $3).
Roscoe's has the food-loving sensibility that many other reasonably priced Italian places in Austin lack. Both Aljon's and Roscoe's are half-way to being great Italian sub-shops, but both have quite a long way to go in the bread department. Maybe if we band together as a discriminating community of Italian food consumers, we can get both promising places to switch to better Italian-style sub-rolls -- after all, we're already halfway to heaven.
(Roscoe's at the lake will reopen in March. To find it, take RR2222 West, past Route 620. Eventually, you'll hit Route 2769, also known as Volente Road. Take a right, and keep your eyes peeled for FM13825. In the meantime, Roscoe's on Manor is open and will even deliver after 5pm with a minimum sale of $10.)
-- Meredith Phillips
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