We all have one, at least one restaurant that we go to not just for the food or the ambiance but for the memories evoked at that location. I’m blessed with several, and Facci’s Italian Ristorante is one. Fortunately, it’s the good food that keeps me coming back just as much as the memories.
I’ve written about the place before… back when I first started blogging about all the cool places I had been. Facci’s used to be the place my husband and I would stop for lunch or dinner when we were in Hot Springs back in our courting years. It’s where we chose to have our first post-nuptual meal together. And… as my friends have jokingly pointed out to me… then the place burned down. You can read all about it over at my Tie Dye Travels review from November 2007.
Thing is, this past year I’ve started this practice on my Facebook fan page, where I reference an Arkansas restaurant each weekday where readers can go find a good meal. And I get to Facci’s, and I look at the entry, and frankly I’m embarrassed. No, it has nothing to do with the food; I still recommend it to everyone who’s heading to Oaklawn or going down for Garvan Woodland Gardens.
It’s because the photos are terrible.
Let’s face it -- when I started Tie Dye Travels I was just a writer with a camera, not a very good camera at that. I snapped shots with no training or experience and just threw them up on the blog. But with time and patience has come a better understanding of how to convey a good dish through photography.
Finding myself in Hot Springs for the opening day of Oaklawn Racing Park, I just had to drop in and do it all over again. And that’s where this really gets funny to me. Because that little blog entry, that two year old posting combining the story of my favorite little Italian gem in Spa City and some truly deplorable shots that resembled those taken by visitors to Scotland out on Loch Ness… was posted ever so proudly in the foyer.
So that’s how I found myself at one of the dark little tables crowded inside the comfortable little house on Central Avenue, scanning the menu and chuckling, trying not to grin too big. Of course, the menu drew back my attention. I almost went for the $3.99 all-you-can-eat spaghetti, but with much running around Oaklawn still to be done, I didn’t want to drag. I ordered mostaccioli and my dining companion chose a sandwich.
We giggled over the menu, its frank descriptions entertaining. Things like “Cheap red wine: It’s red.” Yeah, that sort of thing.
I’d ordered the #2 lunch special -- soup or salad, mostaccioli and tea or coffee for $6.50. I had three choices for soup: Italian wedding, minestrone or cream of mushroom. Well, I just had to give the cream of mushroom a try, since it was housemade. Glad I did. The thick masala-like soup was creamy, but not in that congealed canned soup sort of way. Big hunks of mushroom littered the bowl, and the soup mated perfectly with fresh hot garlic bread.
The bread? Ah, yeah. I went ahead and ordered Foccacia Bread ($1.75) to go along with our lunch. I’m used to foccacia being thick spongy bread with some sort of cheese in it. At Facci’s, it’s a light six inch round, somewhere between a flatbread and a dinner roll, airy and a little salty. It and the garlic bread were served up together with a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette for dipping, a perfect sweet and tart combination.
My dining companion chose a sandwich for lunch, the Italian Beef ($5.50). Out comes this big hunk of crusty bread stuffed with beef and white cheese, with a steaming bowl of au jus on the side. The sandwich bread was crunchy on the outside and studded with sesame seeds, the interior was soft and steamy, and the au jus was definitely housemade, very savory but not too salty. It was served up with French fries and ketchup, as are all lunch sandwiches.
My mostaccioli came out on a big platter, big tubes of pasta covered in mozzarella cheese and then the thick red sauce and finally a baseball sized meatball on top. The red sauce at Facci’s is very tomato-y, somewhere between a thick relish and a paste in consistency and the sort of clear tomato flavor you only get from homemade. The oregano is evident, but other spices hide behind the tomato like toddlers behind their mother’s skirts, playful yet bashful. The mozzarella is generous and binds the noodles together quite well. A lunch plateful tends to be about twice as much as I need; our hostess made the kind offer to box up half to take home, which I graciously accepted.
A good lunch, indeed, the sort of thing to stick to your ribs when the weather is cold, the sort of food that’ll get you through an afternoon at the races. I’ve already said a lot about the place. It’s that sort of place. I haven’t even delved into the delightful cannoli or my favorite dish on the menu, the Veal Scallopini. Well, I guess I’ll be making another blog entry eventually.
You’ll find Facci’s Italian Ristorante across the street from Oaklawn at 2900 Central Avenue. Their website seems to have passed the way of the dodo, but you can reach them at (501) 623-9049. They’re open 11am to 9pm Monday through Thursday and until ten on Fridays and Saturdays, closed on Sunday. And you can have a good laugh at my expense over that bad photography in the window. That’s all me. I claim it.