Oak Hill eatery concentrates on quality ingredients

Tucked away in a corner of Oak Hill Plaza is Verona Ristorante Italiano, a neighborhood restaurant serving Central and Southern Italian cuisine.

For more than 3 1/2 years, Verona Ristorante Italiano has built its business by word of mouth by focusing on quality ingredients, owner Reza K. Faridi said.

"I never sacrifice on quality," he said. "From shopping at the supermarket, people have a good knowledge about quality. I try not to be so expensive, but at the end of the day, I try to make a few dollars, too."

For Faridi, that means making his cream sauces with 36 percent milkfat heavy cream.

That means using large chunks of lump jumbo crabmeat—not shredded—and lobster tail in his dishes, and hand-cutting calamari.

His chefs wait until a customer orders to slice beef for cheesesteak sandwiches so that all of the juices and flavors remain in the beef, he said.

The Iranian-born Faridi moved to the United States from Norway with $2,500 in his pocket, he said.

"I have been in Austin 24 years this December," he said. "I have been in the restaurant business 23 years—all Italian restaurants."

He has held numerous jobs in the industry, from dishwasher to chef. As an owner, he helped open Giovanni's Italian Restaurant in Round Rock and Tree House Italian Grill on South Congress Avenue.

Faridi opened Verona himself, without investors or deep pockets helping him.

"To tell you the truth, I did not want to open another restaurant," he said. "I did not like the hours. But I needed a job, and there was not enough employment. So I thought, 'Let me open something, and I will hire people.'"

Verona had a slow start, but grew to do steady business thanks to the Oak Hill staff and chef Adrian Lopez, he said.

"Three months after we opened, we started offering brunch," he said. "We had real eggs, real everything. We make the hollandaise sauce fresh."

He said he trains his wait staff to be knowledgeable on all aspects of the menu, from how the dishes are prepared to where the ingredients come from to the price.

Faridi opened his north location in the former Carrabba's Italian Grill location at 6404 N. I-35, Ste. 2949, in May 2011.

"We can seat 36 people in the south location," he said. "At the other restaurants I've had, I'm used to seating 70, 80 or 90 people. So I was looking for a location that had some charisma."

The north location has a full bar and plans to host open mic nights on Tuesdays. Faridi said he is setting up a wood-burning oven and booking live music there.

He said although both locations share the same menu, customer preferences vary by location. Oak Hill customers prefer delicacies with a unique flavor, he said.

"In the north location, we sell a hand-cut rib-eye with gnocchi. It sells [quickly]," he said. "We sometimes serve quail. Nobody eats it here [in the north location], but in the south, it flies."

Entrees and specials

  • Cannelloni Rustica: Pasta tubes stuffed with beef, mushrooms, baby spinach, artichokes and a basil cream sauce, served with tomato sauce and melted cheese ($13.95)
  • Melanzane alla Parmigiana: Hand-breaded eggplant with fresh tomatoes, cheeses and marinara sauce ($12.95)
  • Tortellini Alforno: Cheese tortellini toasted in butter and garlic with marinara sauce ($12.50)
  • Italian Sausage Diavolo: Italian sausage, yellow onion and red chili pepper sauteed in diavolo rose sauce on top of spaghetti pasta ($10.95)
  • Trota Fungi e Carciofi: Trout sauteed with mushrooms and artichokes in a garlic, lemon and wine sauce ($17.95)

Appetizers and salads

  • Calamari Fritti: Fried calamari served with marinara sauce ($9.50)
  • Escargot alla Verona: Snail sauteed in an herb lemon-garlic sauce ($11.50)
  • Salmon Affumicato: Smoked salmon with caper, red onion and cream cheese ($11.50)
  • Insalata di Spinaci: Spinach, bacon, toasted walnuts, mushrooms, feta cheese and choice of dressing ($9.95)
  • Insalata della Casa: Romaine and iceburg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, peperoncini and choice of dressing ($3.50)

Verona Ristorante Italiano, 7101 W. Hwy. 71, Ste. E1, 288-3800, www.veronaustin.com

  • Closed Mon.
  • Tue.–Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
  • Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m.
  • Sun. 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m.