Just off the Las Vegas strip, Battista’s is one of the oldest restaurants around. Its walls are loaded with mementos from half a century of business off of America’s rowdiest road. Decor includes a hanging collage of all the great Vegas entertainers who may have dined here. Once seated, you are greeted with liter carafes of both red and white wine. It’s unlimited with your meal, but after you taste this jug “Burgundy” and “Chablis” you realize that the all-you-can drink offer is more dare than perk.
It would be easy to brush off the kitsch decor and rotgut wine if the food weren’t good, but it is good … in a predictable anytown red-sauce way. As such, meals start out with inevitable minestrone or green salad. The soup gets a boost from plump green peas, and the salad from couple of slices of salami and shredded provolone. Garlic bread is crisp and completely loaded with grating cheese.
Entrées are huge — big enough to be family-style portions. Spaghetti and meatballs comes with sauce that is nicely reduced to a thick paste with pan-toasted nuttiness. The meatballs are tender with distinct meat flavor. Is there veal in them? The spaghetti noodles are cooked to a 1950’s vision of “just right.”
Mammoth eggplant Parmesan comes with five steakburger-size patties of eggplant (probably a whole fruit in total). It’s well breaded and covered in marinara, finished in the broiler with a thick, stretchy blanket of mozzarella. It is good Italian-American Parmesan, prepared with skill that makes us want to try some of the more ambitious and expensive steak and shrimp. But it will be hard to return and not get a second helping of the good meatballs.
Then there is Gordie, the roving accordionist, who knows every standard Dean Martin ever crooned … and your college fight song as well. He stumbles with a great-grandfatherly gait from table to table playing whatever tune he thinks you need to hear.
After the meal and a serenade, you will be offered cappuccino that makes us think of a liquid cannoli. It’s made with caramel, vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, whipped cream and maybe, just maybe, some coffee, too. It’s odd and silly-sweet, a humorous way to cap off the meal.
If you don’t make reservations or don’t have time for the full course menu, there is a bar where you can get fried snacks, wine (actual wine, not the stuff they give you for free with dinner), and listen to faint chords from Gordie’s accordion.