You probably have your favorite local place for Italian food, where you can get anything from an antipasto and bread to a plate of veal parm. But here are three reasons why you should try Touch of Italy in Tonawanda.
1. It's aesthetically pleasing, inside and out. The round building (with an addition on one side, but a curved face to the corner of Delaware and Delton) has a satisfyingly retro appearance. Inside, the dining room, divided into two spaces, is comfortable, with an alluring scent of sauce in the air.
2. There is a range of prices, plenty of them very reasonable. Granted, there are veal dinners hovering near the $20 mark ($17.49 for cacciatore, $18.49 for parmigiana and $19.99 for Margherita) but those multicutleted wonders sound big enough to feed a family. There are also plenty of entrees available for half those prices, and several baked pasta choices, such as lasagna and tortellini, available for $9.99. Also – and we love this – there are smaller versions of many menu items that are as cheap as $5.95 (for spaghetti with meatless sauce or garlic and oil with green olives).
3. Every dish John, Pat, John and I sampled at a recent dinnertime visit was extremely good. Deserving special mention are two pillars of Italian cooking, the meatballs and the sauce, as well as one of the house specialties, pasta fazola.
Let's start with that pasta fazola. It's listed on the menu as an appetizer, but no. I actually ordered the smaller portion of it this way, downsizing my spaghetti parm entree (small, $9.99), thinking that it all would balance. Let me repeat: No.
What it is, besides not an appetizer, is a luscious bowl of short, tubular pasta studded with silky butter beans, in a tomato/butter sauce. The menu calls it "a must-have," to which I say yes. The smaller size, a bowl, is $5.49, the larger size, a plate, is $7.95. Neither is petite. The bowl is large, and one can only imagine the size of the "plate" serving.
The bowl would be plenty of food for most people, especially if eaten with some of the warmed, slightly crusty sub roll that is served in the bread basket, or with a side of meatballs ($3.50).
Which brings me to another point: the meatballs. This is another yes, a big one. Meatballs, like sauce, are tricky, because everybody has the "best ever" flavor in their mind, whether made in a restaurant or by their grandmother. But meatballs pose a greater challenge than sauce, I would argue, because you not only have taste and seasoning to consider, but texture, and this is where many meatballs fail. They can be too rubbery or too crumbly, too gooey or too dry. These, ordered as part of the small spaghetti and meatballs entree ($6.95; $8.95 for the large), were neither; in fact they were pretty close to perfect, with a touch of seasoning and plenty of meaty flavor.
The sauce, too, was masterful, a dark red color and bursting with flavor. It was a delicious throwback, balanced in acidity and thick, similar to the recipe served at the venerable Mama Rosa's. The pasta on each plate was cooked well, just past al dente.
The order of cheese ravioli ($9.99) brought eight large pasta pillows, closer to pierogi in size than the usual ravioli. Each was plump with creamy, slightly herbed ricotta.
Those same ingredients – pasta, ricotta, sauce – combined differently with cheese in a chunk of lasagna ($9.99). The diner who received this favors spice, so perked up the preparation with a sprinkle of the potent red pepper flakes. The lasagna, like all the other dishes, arrived very hot, with the spaghetti parm steaming vigorously when we pushed aside the golden brown cap of still bubbling cheese.
> RESTAURANT REVIEW
Touch of Italy
Review: 3 1/2 pennies (Out of 4)
Where: 630 Delaware St, Tonawanda (695-3355, www.touchofitalytonawanda.com)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 3:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday
Wheelchair access: Yes