Our Gourmet: Something for every taste and budget at Nonni's in New London

BY OUR GOURMET April 02. 2013 5:27PM

Nonni's Italian Eatery
247 Newport Road, New London; 526-2265; nonnisitalianeatery.com

Serving: Lunch Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner menu starts at 3 p.m. Dinner only on Sunday, closed Monday. (Call for closing times.)

Cuisine: Italian and pizza

Dinner pricing: Appetizers $5-15; entrees $13-$24; pizza $12-$17

Handicapped accessible

The scores
for Nonni's

Atmosphere: 16/20

Menu: 19/20

Appetizers: 19/20

Entrees: 17/20

Desserts: 16/20

TOTAL: 87/100

COLLEGE STUDENTS may not think much about the landscape that surrounds them, but they certainly think about food, so when our college-town tour took us to beautiful New London, we decided to heed the recommendation of a young friend of ours who's a freshman at Colby-Sawyer College.

We already knew that she's a smart kid who does well in the classroom, and after our visit to Nonni's, we give her equally high marks for her taste in restaurants as well.

Because we had not been to New London before, we started our trip early so we'd be sure to arrive in daylight. We were rewarded with some sweeping views to the south toward Mount Sunapee as we drove along Route 114, a.k.a. Main Street, lined with a mix of beautiful old farmhouses and more modern high-end homes, all oriented to take advantage of the views.

We gave our New London expert a list of four or five places in town, and she told us Nonni's is one of her favorites and highly regarded among her friends. Unfortunately, she wasn't on campus the one day we had available to visit, so she missed out on a great meal. It was dinner for two for The Dining Companion and me, our own Teenage Bottomless Pit having passed on the hour-long drive with the parents in favor of spending the evening with his girlfriend.

This was the fifth stop on our college-town tour, and Nonni's is a perfect fit for our tour criteria: reasonably priced, excellent food, the kind of place a parent would take their student when visiting, or where students might go for a more upscale but affordable date. And our young friend isn't Nonni's only CSC fan - while we were there, we saw a couple of tables of students enjoying pizza, at least one table occupied by faculty types, and another student waiting tables.

The restaurant occupies the corner of a mini-mall in a shopping plaza just outside the village. It's modest in size, with a dozen or so tables in the dining room and several more in the window-lined bar area. The decor is contemporary, with enlargements of vintage Italian immigrant photos on the walls.

We were quickly seated and offered a basket of deliciously seasoned ciabatta-style bread with dipping oil. It was warm, lightly crusted and wonderful, and could easily have served as an appetizer if we had shown restraint.

Thankfully we did pace ourselves, and enjoyed two excellent appetizers. Mine was a bowl of bright, flavorful Pasta Fagiole soup ($7). The broth was a smooth, slightly acidic mix of tomato and chicken, and it was plentifully stocked with short pasta tubes and giant, creamy beans.

As good as mine was, TDC's Involtini di Melanzane ($9) was even better. Slices of breaded eggplant, rolled with goat cheese, bell peppers, basil and garlic, on a spicy tomato sauce baked in a small casserole dish provided plenty to share and even some leftovers. The flavors melded perfectly, and the green peppers added a touch of garden freshness you wouldn't expect in a baked dish like this.

The dinner menu covers just about every taste and budget, featuring pizzas, pasta entrees and a list of house specialties with chicken, beef, veal and seafood. Our decision to stick with the specialties paid big dividends.

TDC's Roasted Salmon Lemon ($23) was a thing of beauty: a perfectly grilled salmon filet topped with lemon slices and a balsamic reduction resting atop an ideal portion of linguine with vodka rosa sauce. The balsamic reduction created a light crust on the salmon and drizzled down into the pasta, infusing everything with its rich, slightly pungent flavor. TDC called it maybe the best salmon dish she has ever had - and she's had many.

I picked Chicken Florentine ($19), a boneless sauteed chicken breast topped with spinach and baked with provolone cheese, served over fettucine with lemon cream sauce. The chicken was perfect, and the pasta sauce was light and delicious. My own preference for this dish would be for a little more lemon and a little less cheese, but TDC and TBP always shake their heads when I order something topped with cheese, knowing I'll think it's too much.

Our desserts (both $5.99) were equally good. TDC ordered a tiramisu that she thought ranked high on her list of tiramisu experiences (though it was lacking the touch of rum flavor that would have put it over the top). My hazelnut gelato was light, delicately flavored and a refreshing way to finish off the meal.

Several of the stops on our college-town tour have turned up a restaurant near the top of our all-time list. Nonni's is one of them. It's casual but classy, the service is friendly and efficient, there's a full bar and even an Italian deli counter if you're planning a party or a picnic (or a little snack for the drive home). But the food, as it should be, is the star of the show. Our Colby-Sawyer friend and her classmates are lucky to have Nonni's in the neighborhood.

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