There is an elephant in the room I’m going to address immediately. Bar Italiano & Pizzeria, located at 399 Highland Avenue in the middle level of Surrey Center, has been open since 2012. Thing is, in the last decade this location has seen a series of restaurants come and go and, as a result, several people asked me why I wanted to review Oliviana. I had my reasons, and three years is a good run, so congratulations to Mr. Schepis and staff. And regardless of the location, I am happy this place exists.
Oliviana promises “rustic Italian inspired fare” in a “tasteful, relaxing and fun” environment. Sounds good to me. Full disclosure: in my very ridiculous, personal search for a really good, authentic Italian restaurant in Augusta, I’ve become desperate. Because, and I’m just being real, we don’t have really good, authentic Italian restaurants anymore. We have maybe one or two that can conjure up memories of your mama’s spaghetti, but I guess that depends on which sauce your mama used with her ground beef.
The interior delivers — spacious dining areas featuring tables and booths, simple but tasteful décor and the natural light from their wall of windows gives the place a really lovely feel. We went for lunch; the place wasn’t really busy (it wasn’t empty either) and we were seated immediately. Our server was friendly and totally attentive, so in no time we had drinks and a menu — which honestly, I wasn’t expecting because their Urban Spoon reviews are a bit harsh on the service. We didn’t have a single problem.
Items range from a few dollars for an appetizer, to the mid-$20s for entrees. Overall, not at all pricey and we were looking at three courses and drinks for around $25 each.
The only disconcerting aspect of the entire experience was the television above the door in front of me. I enjoy being absent of media during my lunch break and can do without having to watch channels with that little ticker thing that tells you breaking news down at the bottom. That’s enough to give me indigestion which is the opposite of what I want to happen when I’m about to chow down on some bruschetta. A number of widescreen TVs hang over diners’ heads and it is distracting.
Back to the bruschetta… It was so good! Quite a few years ago, I went to a place that called itself Italian and I was served the most pitiful untoasted crostini topped with canned tomatoes, shredded mozzarella from a bag and dried basil. This was nothing like that — the ingredients were fresh and the flavor was fantastic. According to the menu, I was eating “marinated tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and balsamic vinegar,” which stands for “mega flavor explosion in your mouth.” It even looked pretty and I was not amazed at all when I ate the entire appetizer.
Our entrees came out at just the right time — I figured I’d go all stereotypical Italian and opted for spaghetti and meatballs. Apparently they are homemade, which is usually a good sign, at least in our home. And who isn’t a sucker for a good homemade meatball? Oliviana’s big, meaty balls were fabulous! The consistency and seasoning were just right, nothing was chewy or suspect and I loved the dish’s slightly peppery kick. The sauce was cooked perfectly and nothing was too salty. The portions were what folks around here call “generous,” which meant I got to take some home where it was promptly devoured.
The trifecta of awesomeness was complete with a cup of coffee and a large piece of Tiramisu. If you’ve never tried this dessert, please do. In fact, drop what you are doing right now and go get some, because it is that good. I am absolutely in no way gaining from this review, so please believe me you will not only thank me, but we will become the best of friends. It’s delicious — moist, full of rich coffee goodness and topped off with a creaminess that makes you happy to be alive. I am far too excited by this, I know.
The entire meal may or may not pair well with a glass of the house Pinot Grigio. Just sayin’.
Oliviana left me feeling happy and full of delicious authentic Italian food; we should all roll that way. Ciao, ciao!
Oliviana Bar Italiano & Pizzeria is open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday from noon-10 p.m., with brunch from noon-3 p.m. The bar is open late on Friday and Saturday and happy hour is daily from 3-7 p.m. For more information, call 706-723-1242 or visit olivianitaliano.com.