PICTURED: Spaghetti and meatballs: a delicious old-school 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 Inn
134 N. Mill St., Santa Paula

Santa Paula’s Glen Tavern Inn is as famous for its history as its contemporary charms. The Tudor Revival building, built in 1911, has hosted wealthy socialites and Hollywood stars, as well as gamblers, prostitutes, bootleggers and other unsavory characters . . . and has also gained fame as one of Ventura County’s most haunted locales.

My first time reviewing Enzo’s, the hotel’s onsite restaurant, was six years ago, where I discussed the inn’s haunted legacy as much as the food. I found myself here again when I popped in with friends for a nightcap after GhostWalk. The cocktails were so tasty and the atmosphere so warm and cultured, we were all enchanted. I vowed to return for a full meal. A new chef joined the team a year ago and revised the menu, and a new manager recently came on 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 tuned for spectral visitations. What we found was that the environment itself continues to echo with the ghosts of a time gone by. This early-20th-century grande dame has ambience aplenty, with her dark interior, plush furniture, mood lighting and sumptuous draperies. My teenagers, who have grown up with gastropubs and taquerias, both commented on how “fancy” Enzo’s was, and they’re right: You don’t find much of that Belle Époque-style elegance these days. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend ordering a drink and sitting on the couches in the lounge, perhaps in front of the fireplace.

The elegant dining room at Enzo’s at the Glen Tavern Inn. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Once we were ready for dinner, we were seated at a table with large, very comfortable leather chairs in the garden room — an offshoot from 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 school light fixtures. We felt quite smart, dining in such a fine location.

Enzo’s is an old-school Italian restaurant, with a menu full of classic fare like calamari and carpaccio, pasta and lasagna, pizza and cioppino (although you can get a steak or burger as well). Most dinners include your choice of soup or salad; for $2 more, you can upgrade to a Caesar salad. The specials tend to be pricey (the 16 oz. ribeye was a whopping $55) but the regular menu isn’t bad; most everything is under $25, and several pasta dishes are less than $20. While we waited, we munched on wonderful slices of toasted focaccia, served with a scrumptious garlic and olive oil dipping sauce. We would consume three baskets before the meal was through.

Perhaps a mistake, as our portions were quite large. Be sure to arrive with an appetite!

The side salads that came out first were nearly meals in themselves. Big bowls of lightly dressed greens (for me) and Romaine in a garlicky Caesar dressing and lots of grated parmesan (for my husband and son), all good but a lot of food . . . and it was just the beginning. My younger son tried the New England clam chowder for his starter, and it was lovely — creamy and savory with a hint of bacon.

For entrees, the kids stuck to the pasta side of the menu. The older one had spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs — two large, meaty orbs that were deliciously seasoned, if a little on the tough side. The sauce was thick and hearty — exactly as a good Bolognese should be — and in abundance; no dry or under-sauced pasta here! Possibly the star of the show . . . although it had stiff competition.

My seafood-loving younger son immediately jumped on the lobster fettuccine for his dish. The seemingly endless pile of noodles were bathed in a rich, creamy sauce with hints of garlic and paprika, and loaded with chunks of lobster meat. Very, very good, with lots of flavor, but exceptionally rich and filling.

Enzo’s decadent lobster fettuccine. Photo by Zachary Johnson

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 layered with sauteed mushrooms, buried in a rich marinara, topped with mozzarella and baked to a melty deliciousness. The eggplant was perfectly cooked and tender, enveloped in a nice, crisp breading, and the mushrooms were divine. The marinara was surprisingly good — thick, smooth and garlicky with an earthy (not tangy) tomato flavor that lingered — and as delicious with the focaccia as with the eggplant. My husband’s chicken parmesan was similar, with a juicy chicken breast pounded thin and fried. The roasted potatoes, asparagus and carrots on the side were a tasty touch. Whether you prefer your parm meat-based or vegetarian, I highly recommend Enzo’s version.

And in fact, I recommend Enzo’s, period. Sufficiently refined for a special occasion meal, but unfussy enough to feel as though you can come as you are. The food is delicious, and offered in large enough quantities that you’re likely to have a dynamite lunch the next day. The ambience is simply beautiful and sure to impress. And the old-school bar serves up no-fuss, old-school standards with aplomb (try the margarita or the old fashioned).

Dining at Enzo’s is an opportunity to simultaneously savor top-notch Italian cuisine, a graceful atmosphere and a slice of local history. There really isn’t another place in the county like it.

In case you’re wondering, no phantoms made their presence known during our visit. But I definitely intend to make this elegant affair a regular haunt, so who knows who (or what) might join me some other time.