On a recent trip to Shelby County two restaurants caught my eye, each bearing the same name – Panzarotti’s Italian Café – and logo and each curiously situated less than a block apart in downtown Shelbyville. One sits at 20 S. Harrison just off the circle while the other sits directly on the circle. Parking dictated that I stop at the 20 S. Harrison location for my relatively late lunch.
I found a charming, cleanly decorated restaurant. The tables sat drenched with the traditional red/white checkerboard tablecloths offset by the black/white checkerboard tiled floor. The cheerful waitress brought me a menu, and I inquired over the difference between a panzarotti and a calzone. Both are pretty much the same in my book, best described as a large Italian bread turnover stuffed with ingredients of choice, typically those that mirror pizza toppings. She advised the panzarotti is indeed like a calzone but it contains a bit more ricotta cheese. So after that explanation, my opinion remained unchanged.
The menu outlined a selection of panzarottis and calzones as well as hand-tossed and deep-dish pizzas, pastas, salads, and sandwiches. My waitress pointed out that the bread is homemade and when I told her I was torn between pizza and the Italian sub, she stated I couldn’t go wrong with either. I opted for the sub because the smallest size 14” pizza seemed a bit heavy for lunch. While they offer pizza by the slice, I was a bit skeptical in ordering sliced pizza at 2:30 in the afternoon.
I found the sub worthy of a return trip. It contained perfectly proportioned amounts of salami, ham, provolone, romaine lettuce, and sweet onions. The Italian dressing on the side was the one drawback of this sandwich as it was obviously an unremarkable bottled brand as opposed to what it could have been, that being a simple blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and oregano. While not a fan of warm sub sandwiches, the slight warmth of the sandwich added to its personality. I’d recommend a few pepperoncinis to accent the sandwich, but I was in no position to complain as it exceeded my expectations.
In preparing to write this article I checked out the Facebook page. Diners overwhelmingly and consistently rave about the lasagna. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered lasagna at a restaurant so I’ll have to bring Jenny back and make her order it and give me a bite. Next time for me will be the pizza. Given the quality of the homemade sub roll, I am sure the pizza crust will not disappoint.
I asked the waitress about the other restaurant. She said it is open and is much larger. The menu is the same, and it offers more space for a busy dining night or banquets. While operating two cloned-menu operations in such close proximity seems a questionable business model, I can confidently state the food quality can support it. So on your next visit to Shelbyville, take a break from the ordinary and help support a local downtown merchant. Oh, don’t forget the cannoli for dessert! Panzarotti’s Italian Café, 20 S. Harrison Street, Shelbyville, Ind. 46176. 317-392-7833. www.panzarottis.net.
• Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman in Indianapolis, focusing in criminal defense. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994 and is active in the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indianapolis Inn of Courts, and the Teen Court Program. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.