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Published: Friday, 10/1/2004

Restaurant review: Inky's Italian Foods ***

The effect of taste and smell on memory is well known. The great 19th-century French writer Marcel Proust gave it a name, "Proustian memory," when he famously wrote about biting into a Madeleine tea cake. Instantly he was whisked back in time, swept up with fond memories of his childhood home.

That sensory feeling came over me most recently when I ordered a pizza at Inky's, an Italian restaurant I first patronized in the late 1950s. The taste and aroma of pepperoni and green peppers, nestled under a bed of melted cheese, enveloped me in myriad recollections from my boyhood. What a jolt of nostalgia.

In a town where the restaurant scene changes often, it's gratifying to know that Inky's, and a very few other venerable Toledo mainstays, still survive.

The Incorvaia family has run the Italian eatery since 1957, and the menu still leans on the staples, from spaghetti and lasagna to chicken cacciatore, manicotti, ravioli, and cannelloni, all in the $7 to $10 range depending on the size of the order.

And there's pizza, of course, which comes in various sizes, toppings, and prices, and tastes just as I remember it. On the down side, some of the marinara dishes on two recent visits were bland, not as spicy or inviting as they once seemed.

Nevertheless, a faithful band of customers keeps the tables and booths filled at the North Detroit Avenue restaurant. Families, children in tow, seem to be the predominant demographic.

Italian meals still rule, but the menu also lists more than two dozen sandwiches and pitas, along with seafood, eggplant specialties, and Inky's sizzling signature, a 16-ounce, $16 T-bone steak served with juice, salad, sides of potatoes and spaghetti, bread, and coffee.

For lunch one day, Inky's Italian sausage sandwich ($3.85) was a spectacular choice, long and sloppy, accompanied by a small, $3 bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce. Like much of the food, the sandwich was bigger than expected: The hard part was trying to get it from the plate to the mouth without spilling red sauce all over myself.

Dinner a week later began with grilled, buttery garlic bread and a so-so iceberg house salad. A medium rare steak went down well, nice and tender despite the thinness of the cut. Two other dishes didn't fare as well. An order of vegetable lasagna ($9.85) suffered from dry noodles and an inordinate amount of cheese, while the veal scallopine ($10.95) - sauted medallions of veal - was buried in an overload of mushrooms and onions that smothered the taste of the meat.

Despite the shortcomings, Inky's continues to live up to its past. The Incorvaias are still dishing out good food at reasonable prices and show no discernible signs of hanging up their aprons anytime soon.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com

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