The pizzeria roots of Tony’s Pizza and Pasta can be seen right inside the front door. Turn to the right, and you are in a small vestibule with a tiled counter where people place orders and pick up pizza. But step into the large dining room and it’s clear that Tony’s has grown into a full-fledged Italian restaurant.
This eatery is the younger but larger sibling of Tony’s Pizza, a popular takeout spot on Harlem Road in Cheektowaga. With its excellent pizza, subs and calzones as a starting point, Tony’s Pizza and Pasta has added a significant number of choices, including dinners. Although most of the dinners are above Cheap Eats levels at $11 to $13, there also are many less expensive options, from subs and burgers to sandwiches, wraps and appetizers.
We also were happy to discover a menu section for light eaters, which offered four dinner choices for just $7.50 – three-cheese ravioli, two manicotti or stuffed shells, and spaghetti, each served with a meatball.
There also is an all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar ($8; $9 with a side of spaghetti or a slice of pizza), which on the Saturday evening that John, Pat, John and I visited featured chickarina soup and minestrone. The salad bar had a sizable selection of ingredients, from a large bowl of crisp iceberg with field greens to the usual chopped vegetables, Italian pasta salad, potato salad and cottage cheese. Between the soup and salad sections of the bar was a tray holding freshly baked rolls. They looked so good that I was sorry I hadn’t ordered the salad bar, but after we ordered, our server delivered a basket of the rolls, literally too hot to hold.
While everything we had at Tony’s was good, these rolls were something special. Each roll was a knot of fresh, yeasty dough brushed with oil, sprinkled with herbs and baked to golden perfection. Torn apart, they were steamy and delicious. The rolls were served with a saucer of goldish-green olive oil that had been sprinkled with the house herbal Tuscan rub, although there was butter, too.
From the soup bar, the chickarina soup had a nice, flavorful broth and plenty of plump pasta dots, but it was noticeably lacking any chicken or chicken meatballs. It may have just been the luck of the ladle.
The day’s special, lasagna ($9) was served with a salad, and we ordered a side garden salad ($3). The salads were similar, made with iceberg and field greens topped with chickpeas, onions, carrots, red cabbage and a couple of tomato wedges.
The lasagna was a nice-sized serving, with tender pasta and a lot of meat. A pool of the house slightly sweet red sauce on the plate was flavorful, and the lasagna was made with a nice balance of sauce and cheese.
The “light eaters” ravioli and meatball ($7.50) was just about right for that price, and both the tender ricotta-stuffed pasta pillows and the meatball were delicious and nicely textured.
A small meatball sub ($6.50) held four medium-sized meatballs, a generous helping of sauce and thick layer of melted cheese. It was too exuberant to be picked up and eaten but was subdued with a knife and fork.
We had to try the pizza, of course, and a personal-size cheese and pepperoni ($7.75) offered a tender crust, plenty of cheese and nice, spicy pepperoni slices.
We made our final selection out of pure curiosity: Tony’s greens ($7.50), which the menu said is being made with a new recipe. The large plate of chopped spinach is sauteed in garlic butter and white wine, studded with chunks of spicy Italian sausage and, we thought, possibly capicola or pepperoni. Then it’s topped with a layer of breadcrumbs, Romano and melted mozzarella. We asked for the hot cherry peppers to be omitted.
This creation was astonishingly good and satisfying enough to be an entree, with rich, garlic-infused ingredients playing off each other both in flavor and texture.
Tony’s Pizza and Pasta
Where: 2770 Union Road, Cheektowaga (681-8440)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.