If you're hankering for hearty pasta in a big place full of beautiful stained glass and antiques, and you don't mind a wait staff that encircles customers with hand-clapping birthday chants (on two visits, we ran into four such outbursts), Spaghetti Warehouse deserves a spot on your "to do" list.
In the 28 years since it opened in a former brewery on downtown's south side, the eatery's look and menu haven't changed much. That holds nostalgic charm for some; for others, it may appear dated. Indeed, the place seems to have as many fans as detractors.
Something about me must say "trolley" because -- to the delight of my companions, who think it's the cat's pajamas -- I'm always seated in the long, narrow conveyance that divides the big place. Three observations on dining in the trolley: 1) the music is a bit loud and the speakers apparently can't be turned down (I've looked and asked); 2) a waitress startled us into laughter by passing a drink refill through the open window instead of serving it tableside; 3) one night, a 3-year-old reminiscent of Max in Where the Wild Things Are, raced up and down the aisle for 15 minutes, followed by his sister, stopping to scream out the windows. It was funny at first. Eventually I ratted him out to our server, but when his exuberance continued unchecked, I informed his parents that he did not have a ticket to ride. Thereafter, the manager stopped by to apologize but offered no recompense.
This is, of course, a family restaurant, with wooden Indians and giant mirrored sideboards to explore, and arcade games on the lower level (it's a bit dank down there). There have been some updates: renovated restrooms (badly needed) and wooden flooring last year. And one brick-walled dining room is the new Ford Gallery, hung with paintings by local creatives. It's a project of former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and his wife, Cynthia.
Overall, the food is heavy and filling; delicate doesn't live here.
We enjoyed the crusted shrimp scampi ($8.99) with garlic butter and white wine sauce and a thick crab-crumb crust. It's one of 10 appetizers. A small hot loaf of flavorful sourdough bread and herbed butter is quickly delivered, followed by standard-issue iceberg lettuce plates with ranch dressing that we were told was homemade and was thin and lacking personality.
A bowl of beer chili (normally $4.39 but 99 cents when added to a dinner) was hearty.
The fettuccini Alfredo feast ($12.79) had dense meat compilations (meatballs and sausage) and garlic bread. It earned a thumbs up from the committed carnivore at the table.
The 15-layer lasagna ($10.99) is the restaurant's all-time favorite dish, according to the menu. It's a mound of meat sauce, pork sausage, ground beef, and three cheeses, divided by three layers of lasagne noodles. It's too busy for me, but my guest liked it.
Chicken florentine ($11.99) is a grilled breast with fresh spinach (very little) and artichokes in a roasted garlic cream sauce topped with fresh tomatoes, over thick fettuccini noodles. On paper, it suggested intriguing textures and flavors, but the palate read it as pedestrian.
Roasted garlic shrimp ($13.99) had a modest amount of small/medium shrimp, fresh mushrooms, spinach (again, just a trace), on a king-sized bed of angel hair pasta. It was delicious, but as my companion ate it down, we were surprised at the puddle of oil on the plate.
Baked penne ($10.29), is comfort food: the pasta is dressed with a garlic butter sauce, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, and baked in its own little dish.
Chicken Alfredo ($10.29) was very good with its garlicky sauce, and Romano cheese atop fettuccini.
Because it sounded so delish, we asked to sample the roasted red bell pepper Alfredo sauce, one of many sauces that can be added to the pasta of your choice, but it was too spicy for me.
The warehouse sangria ($4.50) gets top marks for colorful presentation and delicious flavors. There's a decent selection of wine and beer, including Italian import Peroni on tap.
About 20 Spaghetti Warehouses, including four in Ohio, have been built since the first in Dallas in 1972.
Money-saving ideas: There are occasional coupons in The Blade, and joining the birthday club (meatballs.com) will get you a free spaghetti and meatballs dinner and spumoni ice cream on your birthday.
If you can get three or four friends to agree to order one of four popular entrees in the "family style" category, it will shave the total tab by $10 to $12.
And for two people who are real hungry, or who want to take home an extra meal (or are, perhaps accompanied by a third), the Ultimate Italian Feast for Two ($27.50) is a meaty sampler platter piled with chicken parmigiana, lasagne, spaghetti, ravioli with that spicy red-pepper alfredo sauce, sausages, meatballs, and garlic bread.
Lunches are served Monday-Friday and range from soups and salads to sandwiches and entrees priced from $6 to $10. Children's meals are about $4.
Contact Bill of Fare at: firstname.lastname@example.org