Well-executed Italian classics served in a comfortable, family space, and a BYOB, to boot. You’ll leave with a full belly and a doggy bag. Three of us for dinner. A Veal Parmigiana (ordered with no cheese…more on that later), a Chilean Sea Bass (with Potato Croquettes…more on that later), and a Shrimp Carbonara (more on that later), a side order of meatballs for the table. All entrees come with salad or soup. $95. Come here and eat.
It’s Mom’s birthday. Mother-in-law, actually. I love my MIL. She’s a wonderful, thoughtful, selfless woman, and to be completely truthful, she provides an interesting lens into the future of who my wife will become in 25 years. I know this is a restaurant review, but stay with me here. Mom is a 79 year old Irish lady, who just successfully rocked a double knee replacement. Historically spry, she has admittedly slowed down a bit since the operation, and in my opinion, could stand to gain about 10 lbs. Mom lives in Brick, it’s 5:30, I figure let’s eat old people style and get the skinny Irish lady out for can’t miss Italian food and fatten her up a bit with Grandma’s cooking. I’ve never been to Spano’s, but Mom loves it. Let’s check it out.
We arrive at Spano’s around 5:45 on a Friday night…and there’s a 20 minute wait for a four top. I look at the crowd inside, and it’s filled with locals; families, couples. People arrive to check the wait time. Some stay. Some don’t . Most know the drill, and accept it. There’s a comfy vestibule with cushioned bench seating for those of us who can handle the timing. Fyi, this place does not accept reservations (except for parties of 7 or more). I kind of like that. You show up and eat. If you don’t show up early enough (or late enough), you’re beat.
We wait our time, and land a spacious booth on the perimeter of the floor. I’m always wary of booths. The table is either too far from the bench, or you’re shoe horning yourself in, one love handle at a time. It’s always one way or another, never in between. No issues here with my 265 girth. There’s bread on the table. Butter and oil, and Parmigiano, in one of those annoying “flip top”, self serve “cheese boats” with the spoon inside. Before the menu reaches my reading glasses, I’m already into the bread; one with butter, one with olive oil, one with olive oil pepper and cheese. Yes, I’m an imperfect first generation Italian-American with self-discipline issues when it comes to free bread, within arm’s reach.
The Meatballs with Ricotta were outstanding. Everyone loves their own mama’s meatballs, but these were no slouch. Tender and perfectly sauced, with a huge mound of the lightest tasty ricotta cheese as an accompaniment. Let’s be honest. Meatballs, Ricotta, sauce, olive oil, a flip-top thingie full of Parmigiano and a loaf of bread. Sounds like a complete dinner to me. I did my best to carry on through the meal.
Okay, expansions from the first paragraph. The primary intent here was to fatten up my Mother-in-Law. So it would make perfect sense that she order the Sea Bass. I think it was the only item on the menu that wasn’t served over pasta. A beautiful pan-seared Sea Bass with crispy “frizzle” spinach. That’s what I eat when I want to lose weight. Whatever. To her credit, she did order the potato croquettes. She didn’t eat them, but she did order them. She tells me she likes potatoes. Huh, figure that. The Irish lady likes potatoes. I hear the 1950’s calling when I see potato croquettes. To their spuddy credit, they were creamy on the inside, crispy on the out.
Continued comments from first paragraph. My wife orders the Veal Parmigiana…without the cheese. Okay, so Veal parmigiana without cheese is actually called Veal Milanese, but Veal Milanese was not on the menu. Veal Milanese is a pounded veal cutlet twice fried for a crispy crust, without making the meat tough. But when you order Veal Parm, sans the cheese, you are not ordering Veal Milanese. So the fact that the veal was a little thick, I consider my wife’s fault. Had you covered that baby in sauce and Mozzarella, like on other plates that left the kitchen, I think it would have been heaven.
I ordered the Paglio and Fieni Gamberi. I don’t know what it translates to, but basically it was Spaghetti Carbonara with shrimp. Spinach pasta and regular thin spaghetti in a cream sauce with prosciutto, pancetta, and shrimp. This is where interpretation kicks in. There’s a reason Italian’s use Pancetta and Prosciutto instead of bacon in Carbonara. The smoke. They know the smoke of bacon will overwhelm the dish, so they use Pancetta. This dish was creamy and heavy, but surprisingly delicious. You honestly could have put a shoe into that sauce and it would have tasted great, but the delicate, plump shrimp seemed awkward swimming on the plate. No human can finish this dish. I took half of it home.
Let’s summarize. My skinny Mother-inLaw orders the only item on the menu without pasta. My wife orders Parmigiana without cheese, and I could have ordered the Carbonara with a shoe and been perfectly happy. The service was attentive. The food was delicious. Lots of happy people chattering about the events of the day. The price was a few bucks too high, but you didn’t feel cheated. All the dishes came with a house salad, Caesar salad, or soup. The salad was served in chilled bowls and clearly just dressed and crisp. Not much to complain about here. My mother-in-law is too skinny? Come here and eat.
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