Restaurant review: Dog-friendly Moretti's of Arlington is an enduring classic

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

For Moretti's of Arlington, the dog days aren't just the tail-end of summer, they run the entire al fresco season. See, weather permitting, Moretti's invites guests to hang out with their pooches in the restaurant's comfortable and handsome courtyard. It's a Mondays-only tradition called "Pups on the Patio," and it's how I found myself enjoying robust Italian-American food while relaxing to a fountain splashing and a fuzzy face nuzzling my arm.

If pet-free indoor dining's more your speed, Moretti's clubby and frequently bustling dining room looks "Sopranos" set-worthy. It's upscale-casual, darkly lit, and has brash Italian-themed art and splashes of red to offset its basic black motif. Frankly, the decor hasn't appreciably changed in this classic restaurant since it opened 13 years ago - and neither has its menu. In Moretti's defense, you don't become a beloved classic by chasing trends.

Order some Italian wine (glasses are $7-$10; bottles run $19-$45) - there are tons, and you'll find ones to complement your food. Now scan the menu, but before ordering any of Moretti's many comforting homemade pasta dishes, look for "Spuntini" (it means snacks) at the top left, and get the "3 for $10 mix and match" appetizer, i.e. your deal of the week.

My bargain trio starred the Italian Combo Panini Slider. Basically, a superior Italian sub crammed into expertly ridged-and-crisp-toasted terrific bread, it was a salty, spicy, melted cheesy and pickly extravaganza with fun-to-munch textures.

I also liked the simple charms of my peas, bacon and gorgonzola, golden-brown-fried, but not greasy rice ball (arancini). Tack on a crunchy-toasted open-faced sandwich (bruschetta - but huge!) of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and (quite sweet) fig jam, and you'll see what I mean by deal of the week.

In a similar vein, entree portions might remind you that you can't spell this place's name without first typing "More." Though resembling penne-type quills instead of corkscrews, Moretti's enormous serving of veritably sauceless Hand Rolled Fusilli ($16) was lovely pasta treated racily. Bringing the boldness were clumps of spicy and fennel-seeded seared housemade Italian sausage, diced tomatoes, could-be-more-vibrant pesto and parmesan cheese. Yeah, you'll like this a lot.

Ditto for the Veal Piccata ($21). I loved the wonderfully thin-and-oh-so-tender, flour-dredged meat and its lively lemon sauce dotted with capers - though I could've done without the unnecessary cream. Of course, there was excellent homemade pasta on that plate, firm-yet-pliant spaghetti, along with OK green beans and mushrooms.

If Vegetable Lasagna ($17) sounds like a concession to abstinence, you've not had Moretti's feel-good version. Supple sheets of eggy housemade pasta bound by creamy ricotta and melted mozzarella were surrounded and topped by a wealth of healthy al dente vegetables and a zippy red sauce. I also enjoyed the presentation of this garlicky ensemble: a nifty, (not so) little cast-iron casserole pan.

Carbophobes hoping to fill up but not bum out can score well here too, by ordering the gigantic Grilled Salmon Salad ($15). My perfectly sear-crusted, XXL-sized hunk of fish was itself worth the price of admission. But I also got a mammoth bowl of greens, broccolini, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, feta cheese and walnuts, whose unwelcome sweet-and-cinnamon-scented flavors threw me off a bit. On the side was an aggressive DIY balsamic emulsion. Pretty good stuff.

Also good are the indulgent desserts featured at Moretti's - variously flavored Jami's cheesecakes ($5). If your piece is too rich to completely finish after eating all this comforting grub, I know someone with a waggy tail and a silly, silly face who'd only be too happy to help you.