Villa Castrioti in Cordova is one of those restaurants you might drive by weekly or even daily. It's on busy Germantown Parkway, in a strip center with a large Kroger, Panera Bread, a golf store and plenty of small shops that might attract you to Trinity Commons.
Yet, perhaps you've just gone about your business, going by but never going in. I've done the same, but plenty of other diners have been enjoying the shrimp scampi for more than two decades.
It's a dish that on its own ensures repeat customers, whether ordered as an appetizer or a main dish. But don't expect a simple sauce of lemon and garlic on these shrimp; this delectable dish stops a small dash of cayenne short of a New Orleans barbecue shrimp.
We ordered the appetizer and were surprised at the generous portion. There were five shrimp in the order, all large and plump. The sauce was dark, a clue that this was no everyday scampi.
At first bite, the sauce seemed to be a beurre rouge, a butter sauce made with red wine — yet there was a hint of tomato flavor too, and I began to question whether the sauce contained red wine or white. Garlic was mild but obvious, and the sauce had a nice tang from an acid, perhaps red wine vinegar, in addition to lemon.
Whatever it was, it was delicious, and we used garlic bread, the old-fashioned kind that was crisp on the outside, garlicky and buttery on the inside, to mop up every bit of the thick sauce.
Almost everything at the restaurant is made fresh, and our server was honest when we asked about the toasted ravioli. As it's one of the few exceptions, we opted, at her suggestion, for fried zucchini. What an unexpected treat. It's sliced in thin planks, breaded, fried very crisp, and served with a sprightly marinara and a house-made creamy garlic dressing for dipping.
The menu is long, full of pasta dishes, steaks, seafood and about half a dozen standard Italian dishes such as piccata, parmigiana, and cacciatore that are served with chicken for $16 or veal for $25. The Castrioti house specialty delivers a healthy serving of chicken, sauteed in white wine with artichokes, mushrooms and olives. It's a nice medley, served with a side of spaghetti with marinara.
We tried veal piccata and were equally pleased. The veal was pounded thin, very tender, and again, there was plenty of it. The sauce had depth from a bit of brown butter, lift from lemon juice, and an herbal brininess from the abundant capers.
Our first visit was on a Wednesday night, and service was excellent, though perhaps a bit leisurely. It didn't matter to us; we were in no hurry and were listening to Pat Register play his saxophone in the bar (he plays every Wednesday, starting at about 8 or 8:30 p.m.). The friendly server kept the pace we set, and she kept the table cleared and glasses filled.
On our second visit, service was very slow. We spent close to two hours in a restaurant where there seemed to be as many servers as there were diners on a stormy Monday night, yet we found ourselves wondering where our food was, and our order for a pizza to go was simply forgotten.
Still, the food was just as good as the first time. Villa Castrioti offers special fish dishes, and we tried the grouper and the halibut on different visits. The grouper was good; the halibut, excellent. Both came with a side of so-so fettuccine Alfredo and a nice Italian spinach, and both pieces of fish were topped with lemon and capers.
While the restaurant clearly shows signs of age, I found the over-the-top Italian touches — faux marble busts, big glass chandeliers, liqueur posters and lush landscapes on the wall — to be perfectly in line with the menu in this family owned and operated place (owner Gjulten Papriniku, called Julie, cooks dinner).
Prices are reasonable and the people are friendly. It's no wonder this place has been around for so long.
Address: 714 Germantown Pkwy., Suite 15
Hours: Monday through Thursday, lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Reviewer choices: Grilled halibut ($26.95); shrimp scampi appetizer ($10); fried zucchini ($7); chicken Castrioti ($16); veal piccata ($25)
Alcohol: Full bar
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars