It has been three years since the Toledo Mud Hens moved into a new home at Fifth Third Field in the downtown Warehouse District, providing a springboard for an assortment of offices, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, lofts, and a grocery store that occupy a good number of the district's once-abandoned structures.
Long before then, however - 1982, to be exact - The Spaghetti Warehouse took over a sprawling former brewery at South Superior and Washington streets that dates back to the 19th century. At the time, the restaurant seemed to be a lone outpost amid an area largely populated by gaunt buildings and empty streets.
Whether the decision to locate in the Warehouse District resulted from entrepreneurial foresight or mere happenstance, there's no denying that the owners chose well. The eatery, part of a small, Texas-based nationwide chain, attracts a steady stream of diners, especially families with children, as the downtown neighborhood continues to draw new activity in the shadow of Fifth Third Field, where the Mud Hens play their season home opener this evening.
Seven days a week, the Spaghetti Warehouse (the "Old" in the original name got dropped somewhere along the way) serves predictable Italian-American food. There's nothing particularly creative about the dishes, but the food will satisfy diners if all they're seeking is a filling meal in a nostalgic setting.
In the three-story building, patrons are surrounded by a jumble of antiques, Tiffany-style lamps, brass bedsteads attached to the booths, old movie and circus posters, and yellowing ads for such products as Clabber Girl baking soda.
Center stage in the main dining room is a trolley car outfitted with tables and chairs.
On a wall leading to video games for the children and a basement lounge for adults is a huge photograph of a Teddy Roosevelt-type character whose girth suggests he spent serious time eating the very food the Spaghetti Warehouse specializes in. "Speak softly but carry a big linguine," the old codger declares.
Linguine, fettuccine, ravioli, manicotti, cannelloni, and of course spaghetti await a variety of red and white sauces that mark the restaurant's traditional southern Italian fare. Then there's the lasagna ($8.99), a signature dish that boasts no fewer than 15 layers.
The busy menu also includes shrimp, tilapia, and eggplant dishes, along with plates of meatballs, Italian sausage, chicken, and veal. Steak lovers are left with two token choices, grilled ribeye ($15.99) and sirloin ($11.29), both served with spaghetti in red sauce.
On three visits, I tried a range of possibilities with mixed results.
For instance, a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce ($7.99) and an accompanying tossed salad of mainly iceberg lettuce and croutons were unremarkable, while a delicious tilapia Mediterraneo ($10.99), firm and tender, arrived on a bed of angel hair pasta with zucchini and a tasty garlic sauce.
For openers, the servers, who were competent but somewhat harried, deliver a small, hot-from-the-oven loaf of sourdough bread with herbed butter, which lasted through the meal.
A bowl of beer chili ($3.79) had a nice flavor, as did the vegetable and pasta-laden minestrone soup ($3.29) on another day. Soup, bread, and one of eight appetizers would probably be an ideal combination for lighter eaters.
One other dish made an impression: Italian meatloaf ($9.99), a thick slice of ground beef smothered in meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. A side of mashed potatoes made with caramelized onions sounded good but was too salty. No matter, the meatloaf was more than enough to silence the growls of hunger.
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