In northern Italy, pasta plays second fiddle to Arborio rice, polenta and beans. Generally speaking, pork is favored up north, where French and Austrian culinary influences take precedence over the tomato-based sauces of the south. Up north, you’ll find more cream and butter, and when pasta does come into play, it’s usually in the form of fresh pasta as opposed to the prevailing use of dried pasta down south.
I provide this short primer describing very general differences between northern and southern Italian cooking to shed light on what Ogden’s La Ferrovia Ristorante and Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano in Layton are not. Alfredo-style preparations aside, they are not restaurants serving primarily northern Italian fare. But you’ll need to travel north to Davis and Weber counties to indulge in the solid southern Italian cuisine these two good restaurants—one old and one new—have to offer.
La Ferrovia Ristorante in Ogden generates as much controversy among customers as just about any restaurant I can recall. People either seem to love it or hate it. I’ve heard people say La Ferrovia is Utah’s best Italian restaurant and also that “Chef Boyardee does it better.” I fall somewhere between those two poles, but I understand the split of opinion.
Long before Ogden’s Historic 25th Street became trendy, the mother and daughter-run La Ferrovia anchored the block, serving up the rib-sticking Italian food of Giuseppina and Rita Iodice’s home of Naples. I know families who have been going to La Ferrovia faithfully for years. And it is a family restaurant. Customers are treated as though they are part of the Iodice family; prices are more than fair; the place is great for kids; and no one leaves hungry.
On the other hand, it’s not impossible to have a romantic little dinner for two if you’re willing to clink cheap wine glasses. Those dinky glasses actually remind me of many I’ve toasted with in Italy, where you don’t find a lot of Riedel. The wine list isn’t large, but serviceable, with offerings from Beringer White Zinfandel ($18) to Straccali Chianti ($26). Save yourself time and just order the house Chianti by the glass ($4.50).
I heard someone say that the lasagna ($10.45) at La Ferrovia reminded him of Stouffer’s. I disagree. I think Stouffer’s is better. But my 11-year-old pal Jeremy loved it. Am I right? Is he right? If you like your lasagna in the style of stew then, by all means, take a whack at La Ferrovia’s—and bring a spoon. I equally was put off by the restaurant’s “famous” house salad, which appeared to have come from a bag and doused with a dreadful carrot-cucumber dressing that some people rave about.
Then there’s the Friday dinner special: tortellini alla panna ($10.25). It’s a massive amount (we were still eating leftovers two days later) of cheese tortellini served in an Alfredo-style butter-cream sauce, and it is divine. The very tasty halibut alla griglia comes with penne pasta in that same rich sauce and is also available in a chicken breast version ($11.45). Anything with meaty home-style Bolognese sauce at La Ferrovia is worth your while, and the crispy-crusted meat-and-cheese calzone ($8.95) I had there was as satisfying as any I’ve had anywhere.
Now, if you’re looking for risotto with shaved white truffles, you’re better off at Cucina Toscana. But the chefs at La Ferrovia do serve up home-style potato gnocchi when they feel like it. You can even be put on a call list and they’ll let you know when the specialty dish is available. Nice touch.
Whereas La Ferrovia has been around for many years, Layton’s new Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano & Coffee House has been operating only for a matter of weeks. Located in Layton’s new Wyndom Square, Rovali’s is a family-run (Alex Montanez, his wife, two daughters and son-in-law), smart-looking, spacious restaurant with high ceilings and a small coffee bar up front where you can also sip wine. The restaurant’s rather eclectic list ranges from Blue Moon Belgian-style beer ($3.50) to Neuschwanstein Castle Riesling Qualitatswein ($21). That Riesling, by the way, really rocks with Rovali’s creamy Tortora ($9.99): Fettuccini Alfredo made with Romano and Parmesan cheese, cream and a hint of garlic. Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion that there’s no room for garlic in an Alfredo sauce. But again, the kids liked it.
Among the specialties at Rovali’s, where the service is ultra-friendly, is Casoria ($11.99): slices of eggplant tossed in Rovali’s herb breading and baked in a mélange of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and fresh mushrooms, then smothered in the restaurant’s home-style meat or vegetarian (i.e., marinara) sauce, with a generous helping of al dente spaghetti alongside. The house salad that comes with most of Rovali’s dishes isn’t any more memorable than La Ferrovia’s, so order a piping hot bowl of the yummy minestrone soup instead.
Pizzas ($6.99-$15.99) at Rovali’s are all hand-tossed, with a rustic, hearty crust that chars on the edges in the oven beautifully. I highly recommend one, especially with Rovali’s fennel-spiked Italian sausage. Rovali’s lasagna ($9.99) puts La Ferrovia’s to shame, but what I like best at Rovali’s are the sandwiches. The meatball and chicken Parmesan sandwiches are large and mouth-watering, and I especially enjoyed spending lunchtime with Rovali’s Imperiale sandwich ($8.49): thin slices of spicy pastrami, cotto salami, mortadella, aged provolone, lettuce, paper-thin red onion slices, tomato and a zingy Italian oil-vinegar-herb dressing. Have it your way: hot or cold.
LA FERROVIA RISTORANTE 234 25th Street, Ogden, Lunch & Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 801-394-8628
ROVALI’S RISTORANTE ITALIANO & COFFEE HOUSE 1320 E. Hwy. 193, Layton Lunch & Dinner Monday-Saturday, 801-771-4500