“What do you mean you’ve never been to Agatina’s?” she said with a mix of amazement and wonder. “Just what I said – I’ve never been there, although I have heard it’s really good.” And that settled it. Sandy and I planned to meet at Agatina’s for dinner the following week. It was kind of exciting.
There were no surprises here – I drove by this restaurant too many times to count. My car just never made it into the parking lot. I knew what to expect; the stone exterior building sits very close to busy Buffalo Road at the corner of Elmgrove Road in Gates. There is large parking lot around the back, with a few handicap spaces close to the front door.
The building, albeit clean, has a dated look, with small front windows high on the exterior stone wall. The landscaped area in front is very small, but well maintained. With both a side door and a front door, I wasn’t sure which was the commonly used entrance, so I walked around the front and entered through the heavy door. I saw later that the side door enters directly into the bar/lounge area.
Owned and operated by the Fornataro family, the front entrance of Agatina’s Restaurant consists of a tiny vestibule which empties into the bar/lounge area with the hostess stand. As I talked to the hostess, I realized that I was only steps from the swinging kitchen door. I decided to wait in the bar/lounge area for Sandy to arrive.
The bar was very dark, not only in natural and ambient lighting, but also in furnishings, fabrics and decor. The small, high windows let in very little light, and the interior lighting was also very dim. The dark green walls and heavy wooden bar made it seem even darker. Why was it so darn dark in here at 5:30 on a sunny Monday afternoon? It felt like I was in a cocktail lounge in a questionable part of town, later than a nice girl should be. Interestingly, the cream-colored ceramic tile didn’t lbrighten the mood. I also did not hear any Italian background music. Instead, I heard the din of a large flat screen TV in the corner of the bar, tuned to CNN. I also couldn’t help but notice the small flat screen TV over the bar, displaying a fake crackling fire, in June – yes, really. The entire room could easily be transformed with several high wattage light bulbs and the sounds up beat and light-hearted Italian music.
In contrast to the bar, the dining room was bright, open and airy. Perhaps the large windows or the mirrors on the walls added to the expanse of the room. The three dining rooms hold up to 150 people in total. This place is a contrast in duplicity – how could such a dark and sullen lounge be attached to such a bright and airy dining room? The dining room would have been perfect except for one thing – the linen napkins and accent table linens were dark brown. Uggh! Brown should never, ever be used for dining linens. Brown is the color of dirt and has absolutely no place in a culinary setting, ever. On a more positive note, I was happy with the location of our table, next to a front window and partly secluded by a half-wall, allowing for some privacy in the large dining room.
Their expansive menu is one of Agatina’s Restaurant’s best features. There is something for everyone on this book of a menu – and it all looked delicious. In addition to their Nightly Dinner menu, they also offer several specialty menus, including: Gluten Free Menu, Smaller Fare Menu, Kids Menu and separate menus for Banquets, Buffets and Catering. Wow, that is impressive!
I checked out the Nightly Dinner menu online before arriving and still, I had a difficult time deciding among the never-ending entrees and specialities. All the usual suspects were there. They offered chicken entrees served several ways (French, Cordon Bleu, Marsala, Saltimboca, Parmgiana, and Cacciatore) but their signature dish is Chicken Fra Diavala, described as follows:
(Mild, Medium or Hot) Chicken strips simmered in Agatina’s special seasoned Fra Diavola (Red or White) sauce. Over linguine. $17.95
Pasta specialities included manicotti, ravioli, fettucini, gnocchi (actually potato not pasta), linguini, ziti and lasagna. There were red sauces, white sauces, wine sauces, cream sauces, marinara sauces, meat sauces, French sauces – sauces everywhere! And let’s not forget the fish and seafood – boy oh boy was there a great selection of haddock, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, lump crab and lobster. In addition, they offered a wonderful selection of veal and beef, sure to please even the pickiest carnivores.
The only item that didn’t seem to make sense to me on Agatina’s Restaurant’s menu were the Frog Legs, which were listed both as an appetizer (sauteed or pan fried for $6.95) and as a seafood specialty (sauteed in rum, butter lemon sauce, with oregano for $18.95). While they are indeed amphibian fish, and do belong in the fish and seafood section, I would expect to see them on French or Cantonese menus, rather than an Italian menu. So, just for kicks, I did some research and found that frog legs are popular in the Piemonte and Tuscany regions of Italy.
Our waiter brought us a basket of fresh, sliced bread with butter. Isn’t the bread at Italian restaurants always the best? This bread was no exception. It was crusty and tasty and a great start to dinner. However, it wasn’t warm – I do like my bread to be served warm.
After obsessing over the huge menu for far too long, I finally decided to try a few offerings.
I started with an appetizer of Rollotini Eggplant ($3.95), rolled with a mixture of three cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan), and baked with tomato sauce. This tasted even better than it sounds. The eggplant was tender and sans any bitterness. The cheese filling was hearty and creamy at the same time. I really enjoyed the tomato sauce which topped the eggplant. It was fresh, light and a little bit sweet. There was no trace of acidity which can sometimes lurk in tomato sauce. Priced at less than $4, this was a great value too.
I would recommend this appetizer and wondered why Agatina’s Restaurant didn’t offer it as a full-size entree. (I later noticed on my bill that the appetizer was listed as Eggplant Vincenzo appetizer – which is also offered as an entree! Yay, fellow eggplant lovers will be delighted with an entire meal of this lovely offering.)
For my entree, I chose Chicken Cordon Bleu a La Ricardo ($19.95). I have no idea who Ricardo is. This chicken was stuffed with Italian ham and provolone cheese, simmered in a cream sauce with Spanish onions and fresh mushrooms. This entree included a choice of soup or salad and a choice of pasta, potato or vegetable. I chose a garden salad with Italian dressing along with a side dish of rigatoni pasta in tomato sauce.
When the salad arrived, Sandy and I looked at each other, wondering if the dressing really was Italian dressing. Why did it have a pinkish hue? She tasted it and decided that it was some variation of traditional Italian dressing. I tasted it too and since I liked it, I forged ahead in eating my salad.
The lettuce was mostly iceberg lettuce, with some romaine included for good measure. It contained one grape tomato, a few slices of cucumber and sliced peppers. The best part really was the strangely pink, but very tasty and creamy dressing. Overall, it was a fresh salad and a decent start to the meal.
After not too long, our entrees arrived. My Chicken Cordon Bleu a La Ricardo was fully awash in waves of white cream sauce. I was kind of startled by the amount of sauce actually. I expected a healthy drizzle of sauce. I don’t normally order cream sauces, as I prefer red sauces, but I really wanted to see (and taste) how their Cordon Bleu was prepared. The portion size was quite generous though. The sauce tasted creamy and not overly rich – it was very thick, more like a chowder consistency.
The picture above shows that the chicken dish was rather monochromatic. I could see some flecks of the mushroom and onion, but neither one added any color. The dish lacked eye appeal – it would have benefitted from a green garnish and perhaps some spinach or parsley in the sauce. Aside from that though, it was delicious! The chicken was moist, tender and full of flavor. The stuffing of Italian ham and cheese was delightful, and had a nice tangy flavor. By this time, I was getting full, so I could only finish one of the two pieces of chicken. I saved the rest for lunch the next day, which was just as good as the first time around.
My friend Sandy chose Haddock Fra Diavola ($18.95) for her entrée. It included both a cup of soup and a salad.
She chose the Chicken Soup with Pastina. It not only looked great, but she said that it tasted great too. I noticed that the soup was hearty, with large chunks of white meat chicken, carrots, escarole and of course pastina. She also commented that it was piping hot when served – we could see the steam rising off of it!
The star of the evening, though, was definitely Sandy’s Haddock Fra Diavola, served with Agatina’s special seasoned Fra Diavola red sauce. She chose the hot variety of sauce, being the rebel that she is. According to their menu, the Fra Diavola sauce is the basis for their signature dishes with Seafood, Haddock, Shrimp or Shrimp & Lobster – all Fra Diavola style.
Usually served over a bed of linguine, she instead chose to have her Haddock Fra Diavola served over escarole. Not only did that add extra color to the dish, but it also made it healthier – go Sandy! She said that she really enjoyed it and that it had just enough heat. Doesn’t the sauce look amazing? Again the portion was large, and again the entrée was surrounded by so much sauce that it almost overflowed the dish. Hearty and full of fresh ingredients, the red sauce was a perfect complement to the delicate white fish and green escarole (and I was happy to finally see the colors of the Italian flag!). I was lucky enough to try a taste and it certainly did not disappoint.
The service at Agatina’s Restaurant was great. The hostess and the waiter were personable and friendly. I was greeted immediately upon my entry into the bar/lounge area and offered a table without any wait. Our waiter was also friendly, and made us feel comfortable. He used a bit of witty humor that made us chuckle now and then. He was attentive and efficient as well. Our meal was served in a timely fashion, but not so quickly as to make us feel rushed. Also, he was successful in accepting a to-go order at the start of our meal, and then making sure that it was hot and wrapped up at the end of our meal. I also liked that my leftover chicken was placed in a styrofoam to-go container and wrapped in plastic wrap and then placed in a plastic bag – there was no way it was going to spill in the car on the way home.
As I waited in the lounge/bar area for Sandy to arrive, I observed a customer come in and greet the hostess. Immediately, she asked if he wanted the usual – two orders of soup to go. She told him that the soup of the day was not his usual, but he was happy to order what was offered. It drove home the idea that this 30-year old establishment has regulars and that the staff knows their preferences. That’s pretty neat for a full service restaurant.
Why did I wait so long to visit Agatina’s Restaurant? I have been missing out big time! You will be missing out too if you don’t make it a point to stop in for dinner. If you can get past the dark and dreary front bar/lounge area, and the dated decor, then you will be happily rewarded with a delicious Italian meal. I recommend trying one of their signature Fra Diavola dishes – but choose carefully because the hot variety is really hot!
If You Go:
2967 Buffalo Road
Rochester, NY 14624
Phone: (585) 426-0510
Fax: (585) 426-0208
Email: unable to find email address
Business Hours: Mon-Thurs: 4:00PM – 9:00PM, Fri-Sat:4:30PM – 9:30PM, Sunday: Closed
Cuisine: Italian-American Continental Cuisine
Meals Served: Dinner
Children’s Menu: Yes
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Requires Reservations: No
Table Service: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Outdoor Seating: No
Parking: Free and plentiful in private lot
Valet Service: No
Bar Seating: Yes
Coat Check: Self-serve coat room
Date opened: 1984
Date visited: Monday, June 15, 2015 (dinner)