A restaurant as beautiful as the one on the east side of South Tejon Street, run by people as genuinely friendly and likable as Nicole Ficco and Mel Glyman, deserves better. It deserves better from the kitchen than sending out completely undressed boiled tricolor rotini as "pasta salad"; it deserves better from servers than forgetting an entrée in a to-go order, or forgetting chips at the table, then remembering and bringing the wrong chips; and it deserves better food.

Even before we get to the details, there are macro flaws at Ficco's Little Italy. For instance, the small, repetitive menu features pasta and tomato sauce in four of its five entrée options, and almost the exact same vegetable toppings in three of the six sandwiches. Sides are as baseline as it gets: bagged chips, potato salad or pasta salad.

And about that red sauce — I hate to say it, but it's not very interesting. A recipe from Ficco's grandparents, from where much of the food derives, our batch was thick and generic and tasted mostly like oregano, like the unfinished base of a good sauce.

Other foods just didn't look or taste as expected.

A bruschetta ($4.95) appetizer would normally feature a variety of toppings on a toasted crostini; this one was delivered as a bowl of skinless tomatoes with olive oil, tomato juice and too much vinegar. There was raw sliced bread included — good, soft Italian bread, too, baked in-house — but not the advertised garlic kind. Also, no plates.

Instead of a paean to a few fresh and wonderfully complementary ingredients, the restaurant's insalata caprese ($6.95) arrived as a large lump of mozzarella and unripe tomatoes drowned in balsamic, olive oil and herbs. No basil, and even less restraint.

Finally, there was The Don's Parm ($8.95), a chicken Parmesan dish. It normally comes breaded and baked or fried, but this one came as a small bare chicken breast, another family variation, with a layer of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over spaghetti noodles and sauce.

It goes on. A thin Nani's Lasagna ($10.95) probably did include some of the listed meats and cheeses, but it was impossible to tell under the gallon of tomato sauce ladled atop. The Lucky ($7.95) Italian grinder featured great, fennel-forward sausage from Denver's Polidori Sausage, but once more sauce was added to the menu staples of lettuce, tomato, green chilies, bell peppers and onions, the sandwich began to break down.

As for others, if you get Dom's Club ($7.95), get the bacon for 50 extra cents — you'll notice the added flavor. The Gotti ($7.95), with chicken and the above veggies, was better, while the Capone ($7.95) was the best I tried, packed with great capicola, Genoa salami and prosciutto, and very juicy.

Dessert was a hit, offering a great house-made cannoli just rippling with cinnamon flavor (though inexplicably gross-ened with cloying Hershey's Syrup) and a life-changing banana cream pie from Banquet Schusters Bakery in Pueblo.

So there are some mitigating factors. Like, our server recognized us our second time in, and comped one of our sandwiches for having forgotten that entrée initially. Also, the renovated dining room gleams with a modern beauty, and a new dinner menu is set to debut, along with a liquor license, in March. "Better" could happen — if Ficco's diversifies, tightens and refines.


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