The Pastabilities are Endless!

I should go to Syracuse more often to eat. Currently I go there to shop. Or, I breeze through on the way up to Watertown, waving as I pass Driver’s Village in case my friend Patti at Shades of Orange happens to be looking. But I almost never stop to eat anything of substance, and I’m trying to correct that, because the ‘Cuse has some wonderful eats. When I was a kid, we had relatives in Baldwinsville, so places like Galveston’s used to be on frequent rotation, but when all you stop through for is a pass through Carousel, you don’t really get to the good stuff. With Syracuse getting national attention lately for a possible expansion of Dinosaur BBQ, plus a visit from Man V. Food, I know I need to be better about exploring.

In light of this, Melinda and I headed up for a day trip a couple weekends ago. I need a dress for Mayor’s Ball, and thought I would check out Lord and Taylor and Cache for possibilities. They both turned out to be dead ends, but I did find some good pastabilities in Armory Square. Groan. I should never pun.

I’ve been interested in eating at Pastabilities since I read an article in edible Finger Lakes about their delicious stretch bread. Nothing captures my attention like a food porn piece about carbs. A couple months back, my friend Mimi was in Syracuse for work, ate at Pasta’s, and brought me her leftover broccoli/walnut/EVOO/locatelli cheese pasta so I could have a taste. Even as leftovers, I very much enjoyed the dish. The walnuts lent it a really unique flavor, and locatelli is just plain yummy. It was comforting and hearty, and I wanted more where that came from.

So Melinda and I went for lunch on a Saturday, which at Pastabilities, means their quick-service, cafeteria-style set-up. You come in the front door, grab a tray, and check out the specials. Unfortunately, because you can see the specials posting long before you get to a place in line where you can spot the entire menu, we were a bit confused at first. But we figured out the lay of the land long before we actually had to order. Because of the article I had read, I knew I wanted a bowl of Pasta’s signature, spicy, hot, tomato oil with stretch bread. I also got the pasta with pink vodka sauce, while Melinda got the penne covered in spicy hot tomato oil with locatelli cheese.

Spicy. Tomato. Deliciousness.

We really enjoyed the famous bread and dip. In case you’re confused about what spicy hot tomato oil might entail, my best guess is that it’s an amalgamation of olive oil infused with hot pepper flakes, mixed almost equally with tomato paste, and that the tomato paste might possibly be homemade. This wonderful concoction was sweet up front, from the intense tomato flavor, and all heat on the back end. It’s quite simply delicious – not so spicy that you need to be a total chilihead to enjoy it, but enough to get those endorphins jumping around, sort of like good sushi. The bread was not all that flavorful on its own, but had a great texture and acts as a neutral and satisfying delivery method for the oil. Let me just say right here, the rest of the meal was ancillary to the dip and bread. We both honed in on these treats and focused on shoveling them into our mouths with abandon.

Vodka pasta who?

So this was my penne with pink vodka sauce and a meatball. It was good. In any other Italian restaurant, I would have been pleased with it. It was savory and yummy, less sweet than some versions. The meatball was somewhat denser than I prefer, a little heavy on oregano, but I’m splitting hairs here. Thing is, I couldn’t pay much attention to the poor thing. It was a distraction. There was spicy hot tomato oil to eat!

Melinda’s penne with hot tomato oil and locatelli cheese was more successful, since it contained The Precious. We both thought the pastas could have been served a little hotter, temperature-wise. That may have been owing to the cafeteria line service, and the fact that all the pasta was pre-cooked. I’m sure the story would be different at dinner time when you’re getting table service. In Melinda’s dish, the pasta mellowed out the bite of the hot oil enough so that it would be enjoyable to more conservative palates. I would order this if I went again (and if carbonara weren’t on the menu).

Overall, we awarded lunch at Pastabilities a six out of 10 on the BHS scale, which is nothing if not scientific and exacting. The ambiance here is modern and cool, sort of industrial loft-like, very downtown. It’s not the best Italian food to be found in the Salt City, but it would be a sweet place to come on a date night, and it was fun to hit it up for lunch. We enjoyed our meal, and especially that addictive, very special dipping sauce that I may have to try to replicate in my own kitchen quite soon.

Do you have a favorite Italian haunt in Syracuse that I absolutely must try? Let me know in the comments section, or on my Facebook page, Big Hungry Shelby. I’m eager to hear your recommendations! Oh, and I still don’t have a dress for Mayor’s Ball; a little help, please? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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