Nostalgic Vibe, Hearty Entrées

Italian-American Social Club serves comfort and value

Photo by Anthony MairA Sahara Avenue institution since 1960.

Photo by Anthony MairShrimp fettuccine Alfredo exemplifies the comfort food.

Groucho Marx once said that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. So the good news is that you don’t have to join the Italian-American Social Club to eat there.

This square white building, set way back from Sahara Avenue on a stretch that looks down at the heels, is Old Vegas at its nostalgic best. Inside the door is a dimly lit bar, where older gents pick at their meatballs in marinara sauce while nursing glasses of red wine.

The dining room has a drab carpet and faded walls decorated with the sort of Italian-themed paintings you find for sale in a thrift store. Either Tony Bennett or Dean Martin is crooning on the sound system, when it isn’t taken up with Sinatra—or the live entertainment on Wednesday and Friday nights.

The place, which has been open since 1960, is a relic, and so is the food: red-sauce Italian cooking in the traditional style. The funny thing is, everything tastes good and is less expensive than similar restaurants scattered throughout the city.

My three dining companions and I were quite surprised, for example, when we ordered a $20 bottle of Chianti from the waiter and got a superior bottle of Fattoria—a Brunello also from Tuscany—at that price. It was so good, we ended up ordering a second bottle.

And the bruschetta was a surprise as well—toasted rounds of Italian bread topped with tiny cubes of bufala mozzarella to go with chopped tomatoes, basil and olive oil.

Our Caesar salad was workmanlike and had a surfeit of grated cheese, but it was enormous, easily enough for us to share. I especially liked the greens and beans, a soupy concoction of escarole and white beans, which tasted even better when we sprinkled some of the pungent house Parmesan cheese on top. There is also a nice, crisp fried calamari appetizer, but we decided to die another day.

Main dishes are plentiful and tasty. We all agreed that the fettuccine Alfredo topped with shrimp was too rich, but I kept spooning up the cheese-and-cream sauce with my bread. The veal parmigiana has too much breading, lots of cheese and a tangy marinara, perched over a giant pile of overcooked spaghetti. But somehow the dish works, and we ate it all heartily.

A New York strip, at only $17.95 with soup or salad, vegetables and pasta, had more flavor than steaks I’ve eaten on the Strip at twice the price. A side order of meatballs in marinara sauce—what one of the old gents at the bar was eating when I walked in—proved its mettle with a homespun flavor and springy texture.

Spumoni, cheesecake and an impossibly rich chocolate cake are the only dessert choices, but they are reliable and satisfying. The food at the Italian-American Club won’t set the world on fire, but you’ll leave wondering why this place has been overlooked by the media for such a long time.

Maybe the members like it that way.

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