This is my first restaurant review. I don’t know why I haven’t done one before; I am a bit of a foodie and have some basic training from culinary school. I like good food and I think I know what good food is. So maybe I’ll do more, we’ll see.
When I moved to Maine in 2001 the first thing I missed was the incredibly good food and restaurant choices I had in Connecticut. Every time a new restaurant opens here in my neck of the woods, I have high hopes, and I’m usually disappointed.
With little fanfare, a small Italian restaurant called “Stugazzi’s” opened in my neighborhood. When I say that I mean my apartment building and Stugazzi’s share a common parking lot and dumpster. Our dumpster sharing should have been an omen.
When I walked into Stugazzi’s out of the blue on a very rainy Friday afternoon, I was a bit confused. I saw a few tables and a big window cut-out through which you could see the pizza oven’s and the kitchen. The cut-out had a large flat bottom that resembled a counter and I saw a cash register there so I thought maybe it was a walk-up window to place an order. To the right there was a door to what looked like a dining room but there was no sign that said “Please wait to be seated” or “Please seat yourself” or “Order Here”; nothing. I later noticed that other customers walked in with the same confused look on their faces which seemed to say “Where do we go, who do we talk do, how do I order food here?”.
In any case I stood at the “window-counter” staring at the pizza ovens directly behind it. I stood there for several minutes before a man approached me, somewhat gruff, and asked “Can I help you?”. I wanted to say “Yes, can you tell me how I eat in this establishment, I could use some instruction because there is nothing here that is welcoming me in” – but I didn’t.
I asked how long it would take to get an order of spaghetti and meatballs. My personal opinion is that in any Italian restaurant, you can get a good feel for the food by ordering the spaghetti and meatballs. If that’s good, chances are the rest of the food will be good too. I know that sounds oversimplified but I swear it’s true. I have proved it time and time again.
The answer I received (and I should have known how this would go by this answer) was “just a few minutes”. Without thinking I said OK. The man wrote some stuff down on what looked like an order pad, and asked me if it was to-go. I said yes and walked away. During the next few minutes I sat on a chair at a table and watched the other befuddled customers walk in. I don’t want to overstate the customer base here. There was me, a table with what looked like a mom and dad with their child, and another couple sitting at a table trying to decide what to order and if they were going to eat it there or take it home.
So I sat and thought and it suddenly dawned on me (Friday afternoon after a long week at work is not my best “thinking” time) “A FEW MINUTES?’ Nothing good can come from that; I just had a feeling. If he could fix me an order of spaghetti and meatballs in “a few minutes” I had a feeling the pasta wasn’t going to be cooked to order. In fact it was probably cooked several hours earlier, if not the previous day, and was being dunked into hot water to “revive” it.
It was hot and humid in the restaurant. So when the gruff gentlemen literally yelled out “SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS TO GO!” I walked up to the counter to pay. I thought to myself “There are only 6 people in this room, he couldn’t have said “Sir your order is ready” or something like that? His only option was to yell out “SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS TO GO! as if there were throngs of people there and he couldn’t remember which of the 6 of us placed this order not more than 4 minutes ago?
I paid, walked out, and went home. When I got home and opened up the package this is what I saw. A to-go food tin with the plastic cover, wrapped tightly in wads of Saran Wrap. On top of this package was a few slices of “Italian” bread (the quotes mean there was nothing Italian about it) that was stale and dry and accompanied by butter “packets”; the kind where you have to peel the top off. I poked the bread with my finger and decided immediately it belonged in the dumpster that I shared with the restaurant from which I just bought this food.
I dont’ know how they did it but the texture of the pasta wasn’t that bad. The “sauce” however, was another story. I don’t know how you can call what was on the pasta “sauce”. “Sauce” indicates something that would slowly ooze across the plate if you were to tip the plate. There was nothing saucy about it. It was globs of tomato paste. It was the same texture as the ketchup gunk that collects around the lip of the ketchup bottle. And with barely a little more flavor. It didn’t run, bleed, or coat. It just sat there in a clump. It was, in a word, disgusting.
I noticed on the take out menu that there were some dishes that reference “homemade sauce”. Spaghetti and Meatballs was not one of those dishes that made this reference. So are there different “sauces”? Do other dishes get a delicious homemade sauce with a refined viscosity and the S & M get the gloppy tomato paste? Somehow I doubt it. I was so hungry when I brought my food home that day that I actually ate some of it. The funny thing is that is wasn’t the pasta that filled me up, it was the sauce. The sauce was very filling. The meatballs were obviously bought frozen from a food distributor, or from Costco or BJ’s. The texture was OK but they had a strange garlic flavor. If they were made from scratch in the restaurant, they need a new recipe. A recipe that end up with a meatball tasting like pork and beef, as opposed to garlic and THAT SAUCE.
All in all, the Spaghetti and Meatballs had the refined Italian flavor of something you would get if you ordered Italian food at Denny’s, or Applebees.
There are many interpretations of the word Stugazzi in Italian; everything from “stupid” to “idiot” to “d#%k face”. I’m not sure which one of those apply here but I know one of them does.
Stugazzi’s in Springvale, Maine, is an abomination of Italian cuisine. Here’s a description (verbatim) of their world famous Buffalo Chicken Alfredo: “Fresh buffalo tenders serviced in alfredo sauce and poured over Fettuccine”. Sound Good? Yes, this restaurant has pulled off the impossible and married Italian food with buffalo chicken fingers. Stugazzi!!!