Menu: Vincenzo's

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From the Menu: Vincenzo's edition
It's a bakery with beautiful loaves of oven-fresh breads sitting out on a counter, some stained with fresh pesto, some packed with cheese and pepperoni. It's a nice little wine shop with lots of fine deals on food-friendly vinos. It's a cheesemonger outlet where I recently bought balls of mozzarella made on premises 15 minutes prior to my arrival.

It's Vincenzo's Casual Elegance out on Sawmill Road, and if you love really good Italian food but don't feel like - or are not capable of - making it yourself, then this is the place to go.

Open since 1987, Vincenzo's lists made-here pastas, sauces, meatballs, roasted meats and veggies among its home-meal-replacement and heat-and-eat offerings. Walking into the smallish and charmingly cluttered store, you'll be confronted with so many great-looking just-cooked goodies, you'll likely feel overwhelmed.

Therefore, I recommend you begin by choosing a bottle of wine, as that'll give you time to get your mind right and come up with a game plan. Then relax, because you really can't go wrong (hint: the best days to visit are Fridays and Saturdays, when Vincenzo's supplements its menu with weekend-only specials). Here's a few tips.

Castellan Salad ($8/lb)

A colorful and crunchy mix of fresh lettuces, English cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red onions and big slices of sweet red and yellow peppers. The lively, homemade olive-oil vinaigrette (get it on the side) was first-rate.

Sun-dried tomato bread ($3)

A round loaf crusted with coarse salt, perky with rosemary and basil and rich with olive oil. It was almost a meal in itself.

Chicken with pesto ($10/lb)

Like a blast of summer in the dead of winter. Little pieces of boneless, skinless breast meat were coated in a terrific, bright and creamy real-deal pesto sauce.

Veal Shank ($20 each)

Osso Bucco-like and almost as good to look at as it was to eat. The wonderful sauce/gravy it was draped with was probably the star attraction here - it was black peppery, redolent of thyme and rosemary and intense with roasted meaty flavors. The more-tender-than-not, bone-in meat was cooked to medium and took some knife skills to release. Seeing as you're comfy in the privacy of your own home, do what I did, and gnaw it right off the bone.

Bracciole ($15/lb)

Bundles of tender beef pinwheeled with a bright green herb and cheese mixture and thin slices of prosciutto. The slightly salty sauce was another deep-flavored triumph. Note: be careful to remove toothpicks before eating!

Homemade hot and sweet sausages ($6/lb)

Very good, high-quality products in natural casings. If you get there on Saturday like I did, they'll already be smokily grilled and have lots of their fat rendered off. The spicy version reminded me of a racy bacon.

Portobello mushroom ($11/lb)

A giant, juicy and "meaty" cap was cooked perfectly and had lots of attractive, smoky notes to it. A great steak alternative for healthier eaters.

Eggplant Parmesan ($9/lb)

Refreshingly not a bready mess. Sauteed eggplant came stacked like a napoleon and spackled and baked together with top-notch cheeses and sauce.

Fettuccini ($6/lb)

Tasted like it was made that morning by an Italian grandmother, because it was. The lovely wide egg noodles cooked up at home in no time and were miles better than the boxed stuff.

Spaghetti sauce ($6/pint)

Pretty great. It was chunky, bright and rich and just on the tart side.

Heat and Eat

You're dealing with a fine restaurant-quality dinner, not leftovers, so don't shove Vincenzo's food into your nuker. I had great results by replacing the plastic lids of Vincenzo's aluminum containers with foil and heating them in a 225-degree oven for about 15 minutes.

For the pasta, if you can boil water, you can have as good a plate of it as can be found in town. Simply bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, toss in the pasta and cook while stirring occasionally for about two to four minutes (see, it's fresh!). Sauce immediately.