ON THE PICTURE : Spaghetti and Meatballs: A delicious old-fashioned Italian classic from Enzo’s at the Glen Tavern Inn. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Enzo’s Italian restaurant
at the Glen Tavern
134 N. Mill St., Santa Paula
The Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula is as famous for its history as it is for its contemporary charms. The Tudor Revival building, built in 1911, has been home to wealthy socialites and Hollywood stars, as well as gamers, prostitutes, smugglers and other disreputable figures. . . and has also become one of the most haunted places in Ventura County.
The first time I reviewed Enzo’s, the hotel restaurant, was six years ago, where I discussed as much the haunted legacy of the inn as it was the food. I ended up here when I passed with friends for a nightcap after GhostWalk. The cocktails were so tasty and the atmosphere so warm and cultured, we were all delighted. I swore to come back for a full meal. A new chef joined the team a year ago and revised the menu, and a new manager has recently joined the staff. Now seemed like the perfect time to revisit this historic hotel.
The night my family and I had dinner at Enzo’s, we kept our senses on the lookout for spectral visits. What we found is that the environment itself continues to resonate with the ghosts of a bygone era. This early 20th-century grande dame has a lot of vibe, with her dark interior, lavish furnishings, mood lighting, and lavish drapes. My teens, who grew up in gourmet pubs and taquerias, both commented on how “chic” Enzo was and they’re right: you don’t find much of that Belle Époque-style elegance these days. If you have time I would highly recommend ordering a drink and sitting on the sofas in the living room, maybe in front of the fireplace.
Once we were ready for dinner we were seated at a table with large, very comfortable leather chairs in the garden room – an offshoot of the main dining room, with lots of natural light and greenery, but still quite sophisticated. We admired the carved ceiling above us and the old-fashioned light fixtures. We felt quite smart, having dinner in such a beautiful place.
Enzo’s is an old-fashioned Italian restaurant, with a full menu of classic dishes like calamari and carpaccio, pasta and lasagna, pizza and cioppino (although you can also get a steak or burger). Most dinners include your choice of soup or salad; for an additional $ 2, you can upgrade to a Caesar salad. The specials tend to be pricey (the 16 oz rib eye was $ 55) but the regular menu isn’t bad; almost everything costs less than $ 25 and many pasta dishes cost less than $ 20. While we waited, we nibbled on wonderful slices of grilled focaccia, served with a delicious garlic and olive oil sauce. We would consume three baskets before the end of the meal.
Maybe a mistake, as our portions were quite large. Make sure you arrive with an appetite!
The side salads that came out first were almost meals in themselves. Big bowls of lightly dressed greens (for me) and romaine in a garlic Caesar dressing and lots of grated parmesan (for my husband and son), all good but lots of food. . . And that was only the beginning. My youngest son tried the New England clam chowder for his starter, and it was delicious – creamy and flavorful with a hint of bacon.
For starters, the children stuck to the pasta side of the menu. The elder had spaghetti bolognese with meatballs – two big, fleshy orbs that were deliciously seasoned, even if they were a bit tough. The sauce was thick and filling – just as a good Bolognese should be – and plentiful; no dry or sub-sauced pasta here! Maybe the star of the show. . . although there was stiff competition.
My youngest son, who loves seafood, immediately jumped on the lobster fettuccine for his entree. The seemingly endless pile of noodles was bathed in a rich, creamy sauce with hints of garlic and paprika, and loaded with chunks of lobster meat. Very, very good, with a lot of flavor, but exceptionally rich and filling.
I love baked pasta and eggplant, so the eggplant parmesan was a no-brainer for me (although I was tempted by the lasagna). The dish was more than I could eat. Large slices of eggplant, breaded and fried, were topped with sautéed mushrooms, buried in a rich marinara, topped with mozzarella and baked to a melting delight. The eggplant was perfectly cooked and tender, wrapped in a nice crispy breadcrumbs, and the mushrooms were divine. The marinara was surprisingly good – thick, smooth, and garlic with an earthy (not tangy) tomato flavor that lingered on – and as delicious with the focaccia as it was with the eggplant. My husband’s chicken parmesan was similar, with a juicy finely pounded and fried chicken breast. The roasted potatoes, asparagus and carrots on the side were a tasty touch. Whether you prefer your meat-based or vegetarian parma, I highly recommend the Enzo version.
And in fact, I recommend Enzo, period. Refined enough for a special occasion meal, yet simple enough to feel like you can come as you are. The food is delicious and offered in enough quantity that you probably have a dynamite lunch the next day. The ambience is simply stunning and is sure to impress. And the old-fashioned bar serves old-school standards without the fuss with aplomb (try the margarita or old-fashioned).
Dining at Enzo’s is the opportunity to simultaneously savor top-notch Italian cuisine, a gracious atmosphere, and a slice of local history. There really is no other place in the county like this.
In case you were wondering, no ghosts reported their presence during our visit. But I definitely intend to make this elegant affair a regular hangout, so who knows who (or what) might join me another time.