FAYETTEVILLE — Hog Town has a new "it" place: Vetro 1925, located in the original entertainment hub: the downtown square.
The Italian-centric Vetro 1925 rivals the upscale Scandinavian dining experience at Hjem just a few doors away and joins other relative newcomers Damgoode Pies and Celi's Mexican (recently Oseguera’s) restaurant. And Vetro, like the square, is a showcase of Fayetteville as a town in a full-throttle, if bumpy, ascent to affluence.
Vetro is Italian for glass (or crystal, depending on what online translator you use), and 1925 is the year the restaurant’s historic home was built. The name is thoughtful, like so much about Vetro 1925. It references the backlit glass bar that slowly cycles through color, pink, blue, teal.
Another backlit slab of glass glows against the front window. In the center of the dining room hang balls of blown glass in swirling colors — a chandelier from neighboring shop Corazon — but the illumination it provides is mostly atmospheric. Add the exposed interior brick, the modernist touches, a none-too-large dining room and Vetro 1925 feels like a very deliberate attempt to inject some New York City in Arkansas.
Owner Angelo Amabile, a native of Italy, lived in the big city for some years before opening an Italian restaurant in Tulsa with the help of a heart doctor who’s something of a benefactor. They saw opportunity in nearby Fayetteville and opened Vetro 1925 late last year. Amabile says he’s now a resident of Fayetteville. (To the delight of locals he says the town reminds him of Greenwich Village.)
Amabile knows how to work a room. He shared his story on a recent Friday evening while checking in on tables and making small talk and suggestions for wine. To a table of newbies, he described himself only as the “wine guy.” Amabile is much more than that and has made some very savvy decisions, from the décor by deMx Architecture’s Tim Maddox and interior designer Missi Walker to Alan Dierks, a talented chef he imported from Little Rock. And Amabile has recruited a staff that reflects his attentiveness.
Any Italian place will go to great lengths with its wine menu — and this is no different — but Vetro also offers some exotic cocktails, including three that share the house name: Vetro 1925 Negroni, Vetro 1925 Swizzle, and the Vetro 1925 Rose Cocktail. The latter is Valentine’s Day red with rose petals floating on the surface. It’s sweet in every way imaginable.
The menu is tasty and tasteful, with some nice departures from standard fare, such as an excellent Rollatine Di Melanzane (grilled, rolled eggplant stuffed with goat cheese).
There are antipasti options a plenty, including Suppl, Mozzarella In Carrozza and two types of fried Calamari, one with Piccante drizzled across. The calamari was delicately breaded and fried — if not overly generous in its portion. A bit too New York City for Arkansas.
The pasta menu offers plenty of variety if little excitement. A dinner guest offered his approval of the Lasagna Della Mamma. Carne and seafood abounds. Two other guests ordered one of the night’s specials, rib-eye steak with potatoes. I ordered the grilled Ahi Tuna.
And that’s when we found that Vetro 1925 is, fittingly, going through some Fayetteville-esque growing pains of its own. We were seated at 6 p.m. and ordered around 6:15. We told the waiter we had a show to see at 8 p.m., and we were told that would be plenty of time.
The appetizers came quickly. And then we waited.
My party was anxiously checking the time. And so was the waiter. The restaurant was packed.
The kitchen was obviously overwhelmed. When the meals finally arrived, one steak arrived just as ordered. The other, which was probably the result of bad timing on the grill, arrived overdone instead of medium rare, the pink just a memory. (Even the overdone steak, while a disappointment, got good reviews for flavor.) The tuna was gorgeous and on a nice peppery bed of arugula with some blood oranges as garnish.
Delicious, but unfulfilling. After demolishing the ahi, I turned to the leftover potatoes that came with a dinner partner’s steak.
No one should leave a restaurant — especially after two hours — hungry. Not in Fayetteville. Not even in New York City.