When I was a kid , I loved to eat out at the Spaghetti Factory. They had the biggest plates of spaghetti, the best sauces, crunchiest breadsticks and tons of weird tacky stuff on the walls and tables. The place was huge and cranked out plates of pasta like there was no tomorrow.
I'd forgotten about those Spaghetti Factory days until a few months ago, when I was driving down that ugly and chaotic strip of north Nevada -- between the Greyhound Park and Austin Bluffs -- and I noticed a giant green-, white- and red-striped awning attached to a tannish building. The traditional colors of Italy in an otherwise beige and asphalt gray landscape were a beautiful and exciting sight to behold. That awning meant one thing and one thing only: A new Italian restaurant was about to be born.
Sure enough, eventually a sign appeared: The North End Spaghetti Factory.
The Spaghetti Factory I knew and loved from childhood, I learned years later, was a national chain. I pondered the possibility that this too could be part of that chain, though I couldn't imagine a national chain setting up on that stretch of North Nevada.
As it turns out, it's not part of a national chain, but a locally owned and operated joint that blows any chain out of the water. The owners, the DeJesus family, formerly ran perennial Italian favorite Anthony's, and co-owner/chef Michael Ferrillo practiced his trade at the Broadmoor. And contrary to whatever first impression you might form from the setting and the name, the food is anything but factory-like.
My first experience was with takeout -- your basic giant plate of pasta, marinara sauce and Italian meatballs to go, accompanied by five slices of Italian bread.
The pasta, though not homemade, was well prepared, and the sauce and the meatballs were definitely home cooked. The marinara was sweet, slightly spicy and had a nice medium to chunky consistency. Not watery at all, with a nice sauce to pasta ratio. And the portion was huge. I gave half of it to my roommate and was still stuffed.
A week later I called my friend Sharon and coaxed her into meeting me for lunch. The Spaghetti Factory had catered one of her work parties and I remembered her raving about it. Lunch turned out to be one of the week's highlights. The service and food were excellent. No sooner were we seated than a basket of bread appeared on the table, accompanied by a plate of olive oil mixed with Italian spices, for our dipping pleasure.
Considering the amount of bread we ate, there was really no need for an appetizer. But we couldn't resist the fried calamari, which turned out to be a good choice. Lightly battered and not too rubbery as some calamari can be, it came with an excellent spicy red sauce -- a version of their marinara sauce, jazzed up.
Sharon had the five-cheese tortellini with Rosa sauce, a smooth combination of the Alfredo and marinara sauces -- a huge amount of food that was rich and satisfying.
I tried one of their grinders. Actually, it was a chicken hero -- a lightly breaded and seasoned cutlet, smothered in tomato sauce with melted provolone cheese, served on toasted Italian bread. Mama mia, now that's a sandwich.
Though I was completely stuffed at that point, the minute our waitress mentioned tiramisu, I knew I had to find more room. My advice -- try to leave room for coffee and tiramisu. You'll want to eat every morsel of this not too sweet but divinely decadent dessert.
I'm wild about the North End Spaghetti Factory. It's the kind of place with the kind of food that makes you feel all warm and happy on the inside, wanting to lie down for a long and cozy nap. Eventually I'll get to trying all of the items on the menu, especially the hand-tossed brick oven pizzas. But right now, it's nap time.