Home run

I am skeptical of any commercial food establishment that uses the word "home" in its description. "Home" cooking, "home"-baked, "home"made--they're all obvious lies. But it's not just the obvious untruth--that this food is actually restaurant cooking, professionally baked, and commercially made--that bothers me; it's the increasing sense of confusion about what the people who use these terms even want you to think they mean. And "home meal replacement" is the fastest growing segment of the restaurant world.

"Home meal replacement" as the description of a type of restaurant experience seems to me one of the most redundant terms any industry has ever invented. It's supposed to mean take-out, but excluding such things as Chinese and pizza. So you have to ignore that and assume what is meant is that these meals are supposed to be more like what you would prepare to eat at home if you weren't buying it. And yet, pasta is not a huge part of "home meal replacement" menus, while mashed potatoes are. Go figure.

Surely it depends on whose home you're talking about. In our home, where most meals--except maybe Christmas dinner--are replaced by purchased prepared food of one kind or another, what's being replaced is pasta. So I don't see why I can't put Pasta Plus, a pasta store and bistro, in the "home meal replacement" category. It makes 14 shapes and four flavors of unfilled pasta and six kinds of filled pasta every day, as well as a range of sauces, salads, breads, desserts, and frozen pasta casseroles. And, best of all, if you decide you don't want to eat your "home meal replacement" actually in your home, you can skip that whole idea and slide into the bistro, where you will be waited on. Try replacing that at home.

That's what we ended up doing, anyway. I'd intended to review the take-out department. Instead, we sat at the table topped with soft vinyl and ate the fresh garlic rolls (made with pizza dough, garlic, and parsley) served in a pink plastic basket, with a glass of red wine; we also had a whole hot portabella mushroom, grilled and piled with creamy ricotta and onion-sweetened spinach. Salads were not so hot, just sliced-up romaine with a sour dressing that had waited too long in the refrigerator. Homelike, yes.

The menu offers veal, chicken, and seafood, but, just as we do at home, we stuck with pasta. The marinara over the spaghetti was tart and fresh, the eggplant and cheese "lasagne" from the light side of the menu (made with low-fat cheeses) was excellent, and so was the casserole of chicken, pasta, and tomato sauce topped with stringy mozzarella cheese with more Parmesan grated freshly over the top. This was the kind of invented dish that earned my mom the dubious title of "leftover queen."

Pasta Plus has two locations now, probably because it's so homey and personal. When we left, half the dining room was taken up with one family's celebration, complete with nostalgic photos displayed on an easel. On both the take-out and dine-in menus is the friendly admonition, "Mille Grazie & Buono Appetito," simply signed "Jim."

--Mary Brown Malouf

Pasta Plus, Preston Royal East, 373-3999. Open Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

Pasta Plus:
Stuffed Portabella Mushroom $6.95
Eggplant Lasagne $8.50
Baked Spaghetti and Chicken $8.95
Spaghetti with Marinara $6.



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