“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
For very few places that I’ve been to has this been more appropriate than La Campagna. Situated in small strip mall between a dry cleaner and Chinese take-out, La Campagna does not scream “Hey, there’s really good food in here!” In fact, we had a hard time even figuring out which one it was because all the other businesses have neon lights. But the reviews speak for themselves, and we decided to try it while we were in the neighborhood (it’s on the West side, and we don’t make it over there on a regular basis).
The inside is just about as flashy as the outside, although there were a few nice touches that bring Italy to mind. It’s small (I’d definitely recommend reservations) and relatively nondescript, but when it comes right down to it, who needs flash when the food is so delicious?
The menu is rustic Italian and changes more or less daily – whatever is available is listed on small chalkboards resting atop each table. The menu won’t be as extensive as other places, but there should still be an option for just about any taste. There were actually more options than I had expected, and we both had a hard time choosing. Meats, pasta, vegetables… it’s all there.
Because we had such a difficult time narrowing things down, we started with two things: an orange tomato soup and something called freselle. I don’t think I’ve ever had that combination in a soup, but the flavors played well together, with the orange serving as a gentle backdrop for the rest. Not too overpowering on the citrus flavor, but just enough to get that sweetness. Freselle is something like a larger, flatter bagel, and this one was served with a hearty eggplant and tomato copanata. Think of bruschetta but on a dense bagel. Nice balance of textures with this one.
For entrees, S tried the house specialty Eggplant Parmesan – if you’re used to a thin piece of eggplant smothered with breading, you’ll be disappointed. The eggplant shines here, with a light egg wash and a sprinkling of bread crumbs (at least that’s what it looked like; I didn’t actually watch her make it). The thing that struck me about this dish (and the rest) is how simple it all looked. There’s no extra-fancy plating, no exotic ingredients; it all looks like something I’d turn out of my kitchen. The Alfredo sauce that came with the pasta was the same – in most chain Italian places, Alfredo is heavy, rich, and strongly flavored. At La Campagna, there was much less of the cheesiness and more of the simple flavor of the cream.
I opted for the ricotta gnocchi, finished with a prosciutto and porcini sauce. Again, simple and fresh are the name of the game. No flavors dominate, but many come through. Another stellar choice.
For dessert we split a raspberry mousse tart (with chocolate cookie crust) and a rice pudding that was more like a baked custard/bread pudding consistency (which was perfectly fine with me, as I love custardy dishes), both of which were more than satisfactory, even after all that came before. And make sure to take home a small box of the homemade truffles!
One note about the wine – they have a “tasting license,” so they can’t sell wine by the glass. You can either get small “tastes” or just buy a whole bottle at cost, which is the much better deal. We found one we liked for $9, about the cost of a glass at most other places.
Although La Campagna looks unassuming (if you can even pick it out of the crowd), don’t let looks deceive you. This was an all-around great experience: food was excellent, service was friendly (I think most of the workers are related, and the family atmosphere is evident), and prices vary, but are generally in the $20-30 range for entrees.