A Charleston Icon – Fazio’s

fazio-sampler

Sampler

 Each year near Christmas, my two best friends and I have dinner and exchange gifts.  Christy and I love all kinds of food, but Traci only partakes of two cuisines: home cookin’ and Italian. Since we all know I am not going to agree to spend a holiday dinner eating country fried steak and overcooked green beans boiled in bacon fat, we go to Fazio’s every year.

Fazio’s is one of my go-to special occasion restaurants. We celebrated my Grandpa’s 80th birthday there, Ron took his mom and I on a special date there, and it has become a Christmas tradition for me and many others.

A true Charleston icon, Fazio’s stands proud on Bullitt Street in downtown Charleston.  I consistently recommend this jewel to out-of-towners so they can experience the charm of one of our most beloved local eateries.   Linen tablecloths and napkins are accented by the printed paper placemats.  Unpretentious stoneware dishes and plastic bread baskets present the food to the expectant patron.  I imagine the interior (and the menu) haven’t changed much during the restaurant’s tenure.  The picture of a young girl on a bike hanging on the ladies’ room door amuses me every time.  Some people might call it “dated” and slightly “tacky”, but I find it charming in this instance.

Choose from traditional dishes like spaghetti, manicotti, lasagna, eggplant parmesan and steaks to name a few. Most entree prices fall into the $15-$20 range.  On previous visits I have enjoyed the broiled seafood platter (fish, scallops and shrimp with a side of spaghetti), linguine with clam sauce, and The Patty Ann. An example of truly bad timing, I had just begun my low-carb diet when our Christmas dinner fell last year. Much to my delight, Fazio’s accomodated my strange order of Chicken Marsala, no pasta, extra veggies… with a smile.

The chicken marsala has my top vote of all the dishes I have tried. With or without the pasta, it is absolutely delicious. I might like just about anything if it is smothered in marsala. Yummerific. 

But on this night, I decided to try something new: pasta primavera. The cream sauce was the real hook – I love cream sauces. An intended vegetarian dish, I asked to add chicken to satisfy my paleolithic roots.

fazio-appetizer

Free Nibbly

Before we get to the entree, though, let’s talk about the “appetizer”.

I do like it when a restaurant serves a little nibbly item to ward off the hunger pangs while perusing the menu and wine list.  Fazio’s serves a little plate of canteloupe, pimento cheese spread, and Captains Wafers.  I hear this cheese spread is a family recipe that has been served here for decades. 

As for the results of the wine list perusal: Chianti. The Reserve is my preference, but I haven’t met a Chianti I didn’t like.   My friends enjoyed iced tea and water. Apparently I was the only lush at the table.

The waitstaff at Fazio’s are professionally attired, polite and courteous. I have never received poor service at this establishment. Our waiter tonight took a few minutes to figure us out, but when Christy changed her order upon arrival of the bread and we were ribbing her, he gladly joined in the cajoling.

The bread! Fazio’s garlic bread is crisp around the edges and garlic permeates the tender, butter-soaked flesh of each slice.  I could eat my weight in that bread.

Tangy Italian dressing arrives in a cup alongside an adequate salad serving of fresh, crispy lettuce, dotted with veggies and crunchy croutons. Christy’s sampler (she changed from her usual eggplant parmesan to the sampler mid-stream) came with the antipasto salad.  Caesar salad is also an option and is appealing to me, but the Italian dressing wins my favor every time.

fazio-pasta-primavera

Pasta Primavera

And finally we will discuss my entree.

I make pasta primavera at home quite often. I love to load it up with all kinds of vegetables – whatever is in the fridge, ends up in the pan. Completing the dish with a cream sauce and a sprinkling of fresh parsley and lemon zest, it is a true comfort food for me.

Fazio’s pasta primavera consists of bow tie pasta and a disppointingly scarce amount of veg.  You can barely even see any vegetables in the photo.  Sort of reminds me of the “Where’s Waldo” game – do you see any?  I see a speck of carrot at 5:00.  Something that might be squash at 6:00. 

Wait….what is that circular slice right in the center of the plate?  It looks like….no…..can’t be…..(I begin picking at it with my fork)….omg….it is…..a……WATER CHESTNUT!?!

Eeeeeeewwww. I don’t care for water chestnuts to begin with, but I certainly didn’t expect to come fork to face with the offensive tubular veggie at an Italian restaurant. I would really like to know what the kitchen could have been thinking when they threw those into the mix.

Thankfully I added the chicken, or I wouldn’t have had any discernable components beyond bow ties. For the small add-on charge, I received five tender breast tenderloin strips.  The cream sauce was wonderful.  After extracting the water chestnuts I had an enjoyable plate, but I do wish they would pump up the volume on the veggies.  Pasta is always cooked to a perfect al dente here.

Fighting the temptation of the amazing tiramisu during the entire meal, I was relieved when a suggestion was made to order one and share.  Again with the sampler bonuses, Christy received her own spumoni. She offered a taste and I passed, having tried it previously and been unimpressed, especially in comparison to one of my all-time favorite desserts.  We all had a forkful of the creamy, light, “pick me up” of the traditional Italian finish line- the tiramisu.

fazio-salad

Garden Salad

Even though tonight’s entree left me a bit disappointed, the taste, consistency and service at Fazio’s earns it FOUR FORKS from this satisfied diner who is anxious to return.

Fazio’s
1008 Bullitt Street
Charleston, WV  25301
304-344-3071
Fazio's on Urbanspoon

 (reservations suggested)

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30 responses to “A Charleston Icon – Fazio’s

  1. You’re kidding, right? I’m disappointed to see such a good review for such a sub-par restaurant. Yes, it is a Charleston icon but that’s as far as it goes for me. I think cardboard may have more flavor than their sauces and as far as authentic Italian goes, this place completely misses the mark. And pimento cheese? I’ve never gotten that. That should stay in the southern home-cooking establishments where it belongs. When I think of Fazio’s, I think of a pricier version of Olive Garden. And as long as we’re being honest, Olive Garden is better!

  2. Tara, YOU’RE kidding, right? Olive Garden better than Fazio’s???? …..Another one smitten by a medicore, open the package and pour, chain restaurant.

    We all know the saying, “Opinions are like a**holes…” The review is Susan’s, yours is above, and this is mine.

  3. I did not give Fazio’s Four Forks because I think their food is incredible- I think their food is good. My meal always tastes good and there are many items on the menu I enjoy. Do I daydream about the chicken marsala days afterward like I might savor the memory of the seafood risotto at Blossom? No. But I do believe Fazio’s is above average.

    Furthermore, the food at Fazio’s is not pre-fab chain food. We all know that I like Olive Garden, but I like it for what it is (the same way I like Stove Top stuffing) – and I appreciate Fazio’s for making the dishes in their own kitchen.

    I imagine when I dine at Fazio’s that it’s decades earlier and I am having an experience similar to that when dining out at a place like Fazio’s was truly special. When most people couldn’t afford to take that sort of thing for granted. It feels nostalgic.

    The reasons for my rating are: above average food, varied menu, nice atmosphere and fantastic service. You don’t see unpolished young servers at Fazio’s like you do at Olive Garden. When I reviewed the fork descriptions, I had to give it a Four based on the criteria.

  4. I think Susan hit it right on the head with this one. We actually agree.

    We found a water chestnut in our food once, too. It surprise us.

  5. We had dinner at Fazio’s Saturday. As always, it was great. Both the meal and the service. The only place my gang will come in from Teays Valley for. There is something about the place beyond the food that brings us back. It’s where we celebrate most every birthday, and have since our family began to form in the mid 70’s. Also, if you have never gotten one of their steaks, do so.

  6. I agree, Susan, that the service is fantastic and the ambiance nice. I just don’t care for the food. It’s very hard to find good Italian food here. I think Rocco’s is the only place i’ve had a decent sauce. And to the above poster I try not to frequent chains which is one of the reasons I started reading this blog. I think Olive Garden is the McDonald’s of Italian food but I still think it’s better than Fazio’s.

  7. Tara-

    Perhaps I am happier with Fazio’s food because I rarely get the red sauce. I prefer marsala or cream sauces.

    I thought your Olive Garden/McDonald’s analogy was hilarious.

  8. I love fazio’s. I love the lasagna, I love the bread, I love the history and I love the tradition of going. I have been going there since I was a child but not often. We rarely ate out, and Fazio’s was only for very special occasions, like the night my dad proposed to my step-mom with all 5 of their children in attendance and Mrs. Fazio gave them a bottle of wine to celebrate. I was there on my graduation night when I would have rather been with my friends, but my parents wanted it to be a special family night.

    I don’t get there more than once a year these days but I always enjoy it, and I hope it never changes.

  9. I’ve been to Fazio’s a couple times in the past decade and it seems to be better than it was back in the 70s and 80s when it was terrible. It’s ok, but any cheap joint in Brooklyn would put it to shame.

    What used to be Charleston’s best Italian place is now REALLY bad. Back in the 70s and 80s Leonoros was good by any standard. Since the old man died it has turned to junk. How did they lose the old man’s gravy recipe?

    If I want Italian I head to Rocco’s in Huntington.
    There’s nothing in WV as good as Roccos.

    BTW: Billy’s will be reopening soon.

  10. I agree, Susan, the service is impeccable and the ambiance nice. I just don’t think the food qualifies as authentic Italian. I’ll be the first to admit that the Olive Garden is the McDonald’s of Italian food joints which is why I don’t go there very often. Unlike what the above poster stated, I do not frequent chain restaurants. I love new locally owned restaurants that serve good authentic food. I just don’t think fazio’s is authentic or even all that good. And for the record I feel the same about soho’s.

  11. Mr. Hillbilly-

    do spill more beans, if you have them, about the Billy’s reopening.

  12. Oops, sorry for the double post. I’ve been doing it on my blackberry and it told me the first one didn’t go through. Doh!! That is probably the reason, Susan. I have to admit, I’m biased though. I’m Sicilian and grew up eating my grandma’s gravy. Every Christmas and Easter we chow down on homemade cheese and meat ravioli so it takes a lot to impress me.

  13. demosthenes.or.locke

    Good review. I am still torn on whether to drag myself down to Fazio’s or not. I haven’t tried Leonoro’s yet either, mostly because I think I could get mugged over there.

    It looks like they give you enough pimento spread for an entire loaf of bread – and two crackers? odd.

    Billy needs to re-open, do some advertising (because that is where he got his butt kicked by olive/cheese sauce garden and ret lopster) and get some waitstaff that actually bring the food you order.

  14. Well, I never knew the leonoros before 1998, but I enjoy it all the same. Yes, the salad is bagged, but the dressings are homemade. The meatballs taste like beef and the red sauce is tart. The service is familiar. It is a little pricey for noodles, but I can get in and out or linger if I want. It is a simple place. It could have been better before, but I don’t care.

    I love the fact that they don’t give a crap if you come in the back door and walk right through kitchen. They smile and say hi or goodbye.

    demo – Don’t be such a *ussy. We live in Charleston not Compton.

  15. I like the review, but could stand for the prices to be around. Po folk like me look at real restaurant eating as something typically out of their range, as something to be done very sparingly and with great calculation. I’ve lived in Charleston now for six years and never been inside Fazio’s. It’s always seemed like a place a little too authentic for my wallet.

  16. Demo-
    you should give Leonoro’s a try if for no other reason than to let the waitress tie the plastic bib around your neck. You don’t get service like that just anywhere.

  17. Try Leonoro’s for lunch if you are afraid of going there at night. It’s busy with a typical lunch crowd there and across the street at Gino’s and Tudor’s.

  18. The best Italian food in WV is found in the Clarksburg/Fairmont region for the simple reason that way more Italians moved there. I’d guess that maybe the coal mines and plants in that region employed port agents who recruited Italian immigrants whereas the Kanawha Valley mines and plants obtained workers from different sources, but who knows.

    In any event, Charleston simply has never had a very large Italian population. This means both less Italian places and that those that have existed have been “less Italian” because they mainly cater to non-Italian customers.

    Fazio’s is decent but there are numerous restaurants in North Central West Virginia that are much better.

  19. Bill-

    We do try to get the prices on each review. I was so caught up in holiday spirit that night, I neglected to take any notes or obtain an itemized receipt. The pasta primavera in its intended form is around $12-$13. I added chicken to it for around $4-$5. The entree came with the garlic toast and salad for no additional charge.

    Most entrees are in the $12-$20 range. A few dishes are above $20, the broiled seafood platter is one of them.

  20. Yes, Mr. Hillbilly. Do tell.

  21. About Billy’s: I asked and they say they haven’t made any decisions yet. I also asked to be notified if something transpires so we can pass the news along to our readers. Maybe Mr. Hillbilly has some details…

  22. I really like Fazio’s, for all of the reasons that Susan gave. Except for one — they overcook their pasta. But so does just about everyone. I really can’t get down with mushy pasta.

    And re: the water chestnut, it makes me think that Fazio’s was using bagged frozen veggies. Ugh. But this would never be a problem for me, since I don’t like pasta primavera anyway. But I LOVE the baked eggplant. And I love the pimento cheese. It’s so old-school, redneck, and homey. It’s the perfect West Virginia twist.

    But what I really don’t like is how whenever people write or blog about Italian food, it takes about 30 seconds for someone to chime in and talk about how nothing is as good as their grandmother’s, etc. etc, and the only valid comparison is is their grandmothers food, which of course we’ve never had. How convenient. And don’t you just know that somewhere, there’s a person who thinks that Tara’s grandmother’s food is not “authentic” enough, and that only their own grandmother’s food is worthy. It gets pretty ridiculous, because face it, Italian food is very simple to make. I don’t mean this as a put down either — Italian cooking is all about sourcing good ingredients and handling them well.

  23. Well said, HK. People really should try not to compare any other food to grandma’s or mom’s because it’s NOT grandma’s or mom’s. And we all know that the recipes are different, so there’s no way it will be the same. I hear this comparing from people who are “picky” eaters (I’m not meaning anyone in particular.) Because they are picky, if it’s not what they are comfortable with or used to, then it just plain sucks to them.

    Plus, if it’s a recipe that’s cooked by an Italian family (and I’m pretty sure the Fazios & Leonoros are) and the recipe has been in that Italian family since grandma’s grandpa came over from Italy, then it’s authentic, much more authentic than Olive Garden.

  24. I’m not saying that my grandma’s sauce is the only one I’ll eat or even rave about. In fact, I love Rocco’s and other Italian joints in the northern panhandle. And you know what, they may be better than my grandma’s. I just think Fazio’s is extremely bland. It’s unfortunate but the tastes of the majority of the population around here lead to bland tasting food in just about any establishment.

  25. I enjoyed my meal at Fazios and they have good service, but the quality of food for the price doesnt impress me. I think Gratzi was a much better restaurant (rest its soul) with a quite extensive wine selection and a good bar. It was expensive but the portion and food quality was excellent. And that olive spread and the bread, dont get me started lol

  26. I wish there chicken marsala was as good as Olive Gardens. I hate chain restaurants, especially when they are better then a local restaurant. The blackened filet and salmon are very good at Fazios.

  27. Sproston Green

    I’ve probably been to Fazio’s for the last time. I just can’t say that what your get for your money is real Italian or really that good either. Going to Fazio’s has been a family tradition if you must for many years but it sadly reminds me of Humphrey’s Pine room which we went to for years just for the tradition and history well after the food had fallen off the map and we all know how Humphrey’s ended up. You cannot even compare Fazio’s to the Italian places in the NC part of the state. The bagged salad and “toast” are embarrasing and the pasta is just ok but not really much different than…gag…gag… Olive Garden and in fact Olive Garden might be better than Fazios in some respects. I think Fazio’s will live on for another decade or so just because the older generation goes there for nostalgia and because they don’t know what good Italian food is because we don’t have it in the Valley but to middle aged and younger folks who know better and hopefully are starting to understand the value of the dollar Fazio’s has no real value at all other than some cool pictures and memories to boot. Realizing that Fazio’s really isn’t any good gives me no pleasure because it’s like finding out that Santa doesn’t exist in a way but at the same time it is what it is and the drive to Muriels, Oliveros or even Roccos isn’t that far. Maybe if they announce new management or an overhauled menu I’ll make it back because part of the kid in me wants them to stay around but the adult who makes financial decisions says no go.

  28. Wow, everyone really hit the mattresses over this review! Intense!

    I’ve only eaten take-out from here in the past coupla years. The pizza was OK, but didn’t blow me away; same with the spaghetts and balls. The veal parm was a little tough, but I ate it anyways. Taste and texture-wise, it just wasn’t any great shakes. I won’t say anymore because I don’t wanna get WHACKED!

    (I kid, I kid 😉 )

    And the one or two times I dined in there during the 1980’s, I don’t really remember being blown away either.

    However, lemme say I do miss The Sterling restaurant (with the huge bull-head sculpture on the awning on Capitol Street) with their Grecian bread and spaghetts,
    as well as the spaghetts at Charleston House Holiday Inn on the boulevard, both places of 1970’s Charleston. I don’t recall the Heart of Town fare though.

  29. p.s. Does Leonoro’s have valet parking? Because one time some dude offered to park the car for me.

  30. Valet parking at Leonoro’s! Bahahahaha! Good one, Bo Yeur! I’ve been accosted in the parking lot there too. Some crack head was begging for money and wouldn’t leave us alone as we were getting in our car. We almost had to run over her to get out of there.

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