North by Northwest: Say Ciao! to Traditional Italian Food
Multi-colored light envelops the brick establishment and cascades onto Center Street in Fayetteville, Ark. The building and the authentic cuisine are both historic, but the decor of the Italian restaurant modernizes the scene.
“Glass Ribbon” Bar at Vetro 1925
Photography by Beth Hall
Vetro 1925, located in the Cravens Building off the Fayetteville square, is the combined vision of owner Angelo Amabile, a native Italian, partner Marcia Harris and Chef Alan Dierks.
“I thought there would be a window of opportunity to come in and prepare food that is very clean to origin, clean in flavor, beautiful in presentation, but always with a rustic mentality, meaning the food had to taste true to its roots,” Amabile said.
Amabile affectionately recalls growing up in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother in Italy, who introduced him to “what real food should taste like,” he said. After living and working in New York City, he fell even more in love with the food and beverage industry and opened his first restaurant Piatta Cucina in Tulsa.
“[In New York City] going out to dinner was not just about food,” Amabile said. “It was about entertaining to the highest level, and when everything comes together in a romantic notion, it is beautiful to experience.”
From New York City to the Ozarks, that was the vision he wanted to bring to Vetro 1925, and it had to start with the design.
Amabile hired architect Timothy Maddox to create the perfect Italian atmosphere, using experiences from his Italian travels. The vision was to respect the historic nature of the 86-year-old cask while utilizing Italian precedents to create a new modern restaurant. The design explores this contrast through old versus new, light versus dark, and wood versus glass, an important aspect since Vetro means “glass” in Italian. Maddox and his firm deMX were recently awarded a Fay Jones Alumni Design Award from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville for their design of Vetro 1925.
“The Florence train station has a great façade of folding glass coming down and that was my very first inspiration for the restaurant,” Maddox said. “We did it with the storefront then carried it in with the bar, which we call the glass ribbon.”
The backlit glass bar, cycling through the colors pink, blue and teal, is one of the most distinguished and eye-catching pieces of the restaurant, complementing the chandelier of colorful blown glass from neighboring shop Corazon.
The drink menu features unique cocktails created specially by a mixologist, but it’s the extensive Italian wine list that gets Amabile excitedly talking to customers. It is broken down by region and has a description of why the wine tastes as it does. However, those who are unfamiliar with Italian wines needn’t be intimidated, since Amabile frequently peruses the restaurant offering advice.
“For me, serving great food with wine that’s ‘so-so’ doesn’t make sense,” he said. “My vision of dining is to offer my guests beautiful flavors. It’s not just eat-and-run. We want people to come in, eat, have a bottle of wine, relax and make an evening out of coming to Vetro. That’s the whole idea behind building a restaurant like we did.”
The extensive menu offers an abundance of flavorful fare for seafood, pasta and anti-pasta lovers. If salad is a must before dinner, the Spinacio e Melograno delightfully sets the palate for other courses. The pancetta, goat cheese and supremely-fresh shitake mushrooms are offset by sweet pomegranate vinaigrette.
The evening’s special was Grouper and Polenta, surprisingly non-standard Italian food, but complementary to each other as a simple delicious meal. Fresh seafood is flown in from Seattle, Wash., twice a week and served fresh with the other local ingredients and homemade pasta.
“There is no authentic Italian food,” Harris said. “All Italian food is [about] using local food, buying the freshest ingredients and do as little with them as possible. That’s the philosophy.”
This was evidenced in the famous-by-word-of-mouth Monita’s Purses, small pasta pockets stuffed with ricotta, bolognese and shaved Grana Padano, and in the duck dish Anatra All’ Apicio. Though the roasted duck breast was more rare than expected, the entirety of the dish was perfected with a balsamic reduction, candied walnuts that added a perfectly-sweetened crunch, Gorgonzola and heavenly, homemade spinach gnocchi.
Per usual to my dining experiences, dessert is always an option and can easily sway my judgment of a restaurant despite fabulous main courses. Luckily for Vetro, their desserts were some of the most unique and satisfying I’ve had in northwest Arkansas. The Panna Cotta was a traditional recipe from the northern Italian region of Piedmont, a cooked cream with rotating seasonal fruit — this time with pear. But it was the Sfogliatella Napoletana that blew me away. The warm dessert is rolled in a puff pastry and filled with light cream, sweetened ricotta, lemon zest and candied fruits. Native to Naples, it’s traditionally eaten for breakfast with a cappuccino.
I’m moving to Italy.
Vetro 1925 Ristorante
17 E. Center St. • Fayetteville, AR • 479.966.4649 • vetro1925.com