We've forgotten more about eating out than you'll ever know.

Cincinnati Bites
Mushroom and Swiss Burger from Main Street Cafe from

Posted Saturday, February 4, 2012

The fantasy of being part of a large Italian family is a seductive one, where's there's a palpable, inexorable bond among its members. I picture them all seated at a long dinner table, bustling with spirited and overlapping conversation. A large, cushy, happy old grandmother with a big bowl of pasta slung under one arm leans over, inadvertently showing off her ample, withered cleavage as she pinches the cheek of her husband, who's busy singing some folksy Italian ditty over the din of animated dialogue and hand gesturing. And yes, I'm still fixated on grandma's cleavage.

Families aren't like that anymore, at least none I'm familiar with. They're broken. Empty. Distant. In this day and age of cell phones and Facebooks and digital faux-connectedness, no one really wants to put up with another's shit any longer than they have to. But that doesn't mean we don't all dream of a different, simpler time.

Restaurants like Campanello's, located on Central Avenue downtown, help in some small way to fill that void we of broken families share. We want to be engulfed and embraced by a close-knit atmosphere; we want to bask in all its boisterousness, its innate camaraderie --everything today's dysfunctional families lack.

Campanello's Italian Cuisine exterior

The main dining room back behind the bar is as quaint as it is cozy. Red and white-checkered table cloths and 70s-esque wood paneling reflect the spirit of an old Italian grandmother stubbornly stuck in her ways. Newspaper clippings of Pete Rose milestones adorn the walls. "Let Him In" proclaims a section of their website devoted to him. Amen to that.

Campanello's menu promises traditional Italian classics: entrees of Marsalas, Cacciatores, Parmesanos along with Spaghettis, Lasagnas, Fettucines, Manicottis and Mostacciolis fill the pages. Dinner prices seemed a little on the high side compared to similar Italian restaurants. Lunch prices were much more reasonable.

We started off with the complimentary basket of homemade bread and pads of butter. The bread was simple, soft and white with a slightly chewy crust, a decent start to our evening.

Campanello's bread and salad

Within moments, a large party arrived at one of the nearby tables. It was impossible to avoid eavesdropping on one another's conversations. A brief and minor tiff with the waitress ensued about their desire for separate checks. The waitress said they don't usually do that. A member of the group proclaimed he knew the chef and instructed her to retrieve him to settle it.

I'm told part of Campanello's schtick is its sometimes abrasive personalities in both the front and back of the house. A friend told me the tale of her boss's incident, in which he'd asked for a table to be cleaned off before he sat down, only to be thrown a rag by an old woman who growled, "Here, clean it off yourself!" Now THAT'S Italian!

The chef returned with what seemed like an air of mock defiance, saying he had no control over the policy and if one check is what is necessary, then they'll need to deal with it. Most of the exchange seemed semi-jocular; we wondered how much of it had been for show.

After the exchange, we settled on a couple entrees. I chose the Mostaccioli and Italian Sausage, while my girlfriend ordered the "Campanello's Specialty," chosen at the chef's discretion. Today, the specialty was a combo of "Manicotti a la Danny," two baked cheese-stuffed manicotti, and a slice of lasagna, with a meatless and meat tomato sauce, respectively. All entrees come with the aforementioned bread and a side salad.

Salads arrived quickly either topped with dressing or served on the side upon request. They were simple, with crisp iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots, wisps of cabbage, a single cherry tomato slice and a single black olive.

Campanello's Manicotti and Lasagna
Campanello's Manicotti and Lasagna

Our entrees arrived about 15 minutes later, a comfortable pace. The plate of baked manicotti and lasagna was bubbling hot, while my plate of mostaccioli was not so much. The most visually striking and disconcerting aspect of my entree was that the Italian sausage had been cut up into cubes. I've never seen it presented this way. It didn't even appear the sausage had once been in tube format; rather, it had been prepared in a flat, loaf-style and then cut. The presentation was unappetizing to me, but I soldiered on.

My girlfriend enjoyed the meaty flavor of her lasagna more than the meatless manicotti, while I preferred the latter. My Italian sausage tasted better than it looked (ho-ho!) but I think the cubed preparation gave it a drier, less juicy consistency. The ridged penne pasta was ok, though it's advertised on the menu as "Mostaccioli (with penne)." It's minor semantics, but if the dish uses ridged penne, why keep calling it mostaccioli? I found my pasta sauce a bit bland, forced to add liberal shakes of red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese to spice things up.

Campanello's seems to get it right on the atmosphere front, but for us, its food was hit-or-miss. Maybe that's the hallmark of a genuine Italian grandmother. So when she shuffles by your table and pinches your cheek, be sure to smile, nod and tell her everything's just fine.

Campanello's Italian Cuisine on Urbanspoon
Campanello\'s Italian Cuisine

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 2.5 out of 42.5 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. Sandwichy Impressions: Fond: Lunch & Deli
    -posted Tuesday, April 3, 2018
  2. Our first look at Cooking with Caitlin's restaurant
    -posted Monday, March 26, 2018
  3. Chicken Impressions: Revolution Rotisserie & Bar
    -posted Saturday, March 17, 2018
  4. Seitan Worship: Losantivill3
    -posted Wednesday, March 7, 2018
  5. Chinese Impressions: Kung Food Chu's AmerAsia
    -posted Monday, February 26, 2018
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Leslie about El Trio Mexican Grill:
    El Trio closed last week :(
    posted: Tue., Apr 3rd, 2018 @ 3:19 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Bourbon Smokehouse:
    Best pulled pork in town: webbs bbq in Newport, open ONLY on Fridays. and cheap.
    posted: Thu., Feb 1st, 2018 @ 12:39 PM
  • From Natasia Malaihollo about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thank you for the review and background on the restaurant history! I was a huge fan of huit and super disappointed when they “closed.” Was wondering what’s going on with this musical chairs of a restaurant strategy so thank you for clarifying!
    posted: Fri., Jan 26th, 2018 @ 6:50 PM
  • From Jeff about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for the thorough review! It honestly does seem like a new restaurant is opening every other day..but the thing about the wait staff..they might be getting paid a higher hourly rate because they are only open for lunch. I’ve worked at a restaurant where I was paid $10 an hour but the owner kept the tips, it sucked but sort of made sense for the lunch shift.
    posted: Fri., Dec 22nd, 2017 @ 9:00 PM
  • From heather about Wild Eggs:
    we liked it too - things are fresh and made from scratch and high quality - good experiences all around
    posted: Wed., Dec 20th, 2017 @ 10:55 AM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for writing, Heather. I definitely like their other restaurants. Lalo's pazole and fish taco are better than Mazunte's, I think. But I agree they are definitely hit-or-miss. I'm still rooting for them, though. There's talent there. :)

    posted: Mon., Nov 20th, 2017 @ 1:30 PM
  • From Heather JOhnson about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    I tried Huit & Lalo and they were both expensive and so mixed - one thing great - another thing barely mediocre. More of the same it sounds like - hits and misses for a really expensive lunch. Nope on Dope.
    posted: Sun., Nov 19th, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design