Hit the sauce
Toni Rigatonis fits the term “bistro” to a T. With seating for perhaps 20 to 25 in a boxcar of a dining room, there isn’t much separation from other patrons. Take-out might be your best bet, but call well ahead because the brand new staff are cheerfully struggling to keep up with demand—and with good reason.
A complimentary bowl of uninspired garlic bread appeared, giving us pause. The bread had the flavor and texture of a toasted hamburger bun. They didn’t skimp on butter, and I longed for more garlic and herb flavor. It took quite a while before one of several servers returned to take our order. I’m guessing they’re still in training mode.
Following a 30-minute wait, we received a house salad ($3 when ordered with an entree) and a healthy serving of deep-fried calamari ($12). The salad was ample, and the vinaigrette was very light, perfect for a summer evening. The calamari was very tender with a crispy, seasoned breadcrumb coating, served with a very good housemade marinara.
We waited another 40 minutes for the rest of our order. Perhaps they’re trying to build suspense? We were relieved when our food arrived and even happier as we started munching. Rigatonis offers $10 bowls with a choice of pasta and sauce, including some gravies I wouldn’t have expected from a small operation serving “Italian-American soul food, made fresh every day.” You can add a sausage link ($3), a chicken cutlet ($4) or a meatball ($2). My wife ordered rigatoni with a meatball and vodka sauce. We also ordered a bowl of fettuccine with pesto to share because it sounded so good.
Plenty of vodka sauce coated large rigatoni in silky decadence. Sometimes vodka sauce can be bland—or, worse, it might be too boozy and spicy. This was one of the best seasoned, well-balanced iterations I’ve tasted. The meatball was tasty but seemed a little small for the money. The pesto was several steps beyond average. The spinach worked very well with the other ingredients, and the walnut flavor really came through satisfyingly.
I broke with tradition and chose penne pasta and a sausage link in puttanesca sauce. The sauce is a recipe that originated sometime in the mid-20th century as spaghetti alla puttanesca, which basically translates to “spaghetti in the style of a prostitute.” This puttanesca sauce was a feisty one, with strong, briny ingredients tempered by sweet tomato and rounded out by a surprisingly spicy finish. By their purple color I’d say Italian gaeta olives—or something similar—were used. The sliced, mild Italian sausage link punctuated the dish, a perfect supporting partner to the more aggressive flavors.
We completed the meal with an order of chicken Marsala ($16)—two breaded chicken cutlets covered in sauteed mushroom slices and served with a side of linguine featuring plenty of Marsala wine sauce. The chicken was expertly prepared—very moist and tender—and the sauce was subtle and refined. All of the sauces we tasted were above-average, allowing us to forgive and forget the service stumbles. The chef ought to consider jarring and selling his sauces over the counter.
They were sold out of tiramisu, so we shared a cannoli cone ($5) for dessert. An ice cream cone was stuffed with filling—set atop another scoop of filling—and drizzled in Nutella. I thought it was OK, and I’m guessing kids and Nutella-crazed millennials would love it. We’ll definitely be back.