I avoid restaurants on holidays. It’s difficult to get a snapshot of how the restaurant usually does business. And by snapshot I mean both literally and figuratively: It isn’t desirable to have a photo of a dining room decked out for Christmas in a review that will live throughout the year.
Or in the case of Sinatra’s Ristorante, one staged for Halloween. Actually, I’m not so certain that it isn’t always set for Halloween. After all, the restaurant is in Cassadaga, the unincoporated community also known as the Psychic Capital of the World. Halloween, it would seem, is a big deal here.
So much so that the usual rituals, and you may interpret that word any way you wish, aren’t confined to Oct. 31, as I found out on Oct. 30, Halloween-een, apparently.
An appointment had taken me to DeLand, and with so few restaurants in that city open on Mondays — including some that list that they’re open daily — I figured it was a good time to visit Sinatra’s, not far away. I had been told it had good Italian food and that it featured piano music. I appreciate both, so I wended my way there after calling ahead to confirm that it was indeed open.
I should have known something was amiss when the person who answered the phone at the restaurant had to yell into the receiver to be heard over the background din. Still, I went on.
The streets surrounding the restaurant, which is in the always-eerie Hotel Cassadaga, were lively with Day of the Dead-heads wandering about. After circling for a time, I finally found a parking space and went inside.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t flee this scene. You might ask the same of the hapless couple from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Go ahead, ask them — the movie is playing on one of the restaurant’s walls.
A snippy young woman guarding the Gates of H…I mean the entrance to the dining room told me that I could have a seat at the piano bar, which was being pounded upon by a man in costume. The gentleman did not let the limits of his vocal range prevent him from attempting notes beyond it, nor did he feel the need to confine his accompaniment to a prerecorded track to the same key it was playing in. Also, very very loud. I asked to move to a table, and Snippy Young Woman eventually deigned to let me.
The table I was seated at was lit by flashing lights from above the piano. Again, I don’t know if they are always there or were part of the holiday decorations. Whichever, quite annoying.
I ordered the Chicken Saltimbocca. It came with a choice of salad or soup. Soup choices were Italian Wedding Soup or the zuppa del giorno, which was also Italian Wedding Soup. (In honor of the Bride of Frankenstein, I’m guessing.) The soup was fine, with hunky bits of meat and ditalini pasta.
It took a great while for the entree to arrive and a great while longer for me to take a bite.
The plate was plopped unceremoniously in front of me by someone who appeared to be a kitchen worker. “Here you go,” she said with the enthusiasm of the butler from the Addam’s Family, then hurried away, her low-rider jeans riding much too low for kitchen work.
Had she been concerned to ask if there was anything else she could get me, I would have pointed out that the table had no flatware on it. So I sat there, patiently (I’m lying about the patient part) waiting for someone, anyone to notice or check back.
I invite you at your next meal to try this: Put your entree in front of yourself — plop it down with a sneer, if you like — then set a stopwatch for four minutes without taking your first bite. You’ll see how interminably long that can be.
If you want the full effect of what I experienced when I finally was handed a rollup of utensils in a paper napkin and took that first bite, sprinkle your food with copious amounts of garlic. There was so much garlic on the chicken and in the pesto-infused risotto that accompanied it that I can say without any equivocation that there are NO VAMPIRES IN CASSADAGA! Saltimbocca is Italian for “jump in the mouth.” This was the opposite.
I’m breaking some of my own rules with this review. And I’m inclined to cut the restaurant more slack than I am — and trust me, slack is being cut here. So let me just leave this as a cautionary tale for restaurants to confine holiday celebrations to the actual holiday. And whether there’s special revelry or not, when something goes wrong, acknowledge it, fix it. Make it right. You’re only human. (Not so sure about the guy in the mummy getup.)
Sinatra’s Ristorante is at 355 Cassadaga Road, Lake Helen. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 386-218-3806.