The black metal plate was absolutely sizzling as the server carefully placed it before me. Cautiously, I leaned forward and drank in the aroma of the still-cooking food. Calamari. Melted mozzarella. Hot peppers, sliced so thin they were draped over the plate like lace.
The server handed me a small plate, but I just started jabbing my fork into the mass of calamari, cheese, peppers and onions. Stopping only to stuff a piece or two of garlic bread into my mouth, I soon made sure there was nothing left on the plate to sizzle.
Such was my first meal at Auntie Pasto’s, a new restaurant at the Queen Ka”˜ahumanu Center in the old Arby’s/Orange Julius location. Owner Ed Wary bills the place as an Italian/American “diner”Northern Italy by way of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I guessand already has two locations on Oahu. “Home-style, country cooking,” he said in the menu. “Nothing too fancy. The food served in the homes of blue-collar Italian-Americans along the East Coast and New England. Italian comfort food, if you will.”
Now I grew up in a “blue-collar Italian-American” home and, though it was on the West Coast, we never, ever had calamariserved on a hot plate of sizzling deliciousness or not. What’s more, I spent many a Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter at the blue-collar Italian-American home of my paternal grandparents, and they never served calamari either.
After eating at Auntie Pasto’s, I really wish they had. They could have done wonders with the dish…
But I digress. Calling Auntie Pasto’s a “diner” seems silly to me, especially if you look over the menu, which is huge. I counted 55 entrees and antipasto dishes, including 10 pizzas, four steaks, eight salads and four calamari dishes. They have White Clam pizza and Clams & Broccoli pasta. They offer Sausage & Peppers in both pasta and pizza forms.
They’ll pan-sear a steak, simmer it in red wine and tomato sauce and then top it with garlic and mozzarella cheese (Steak Pizziola), top it with lemon juice and sea salt and serve it over creamed spinach (Steak Florentine) or top it with pickled hot peppers and vegetables (Chicago-Style Pepper Steak). And they’ve got spaghetti, lasagna, Chicken Cacciatore and Shrimp Scampi, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be Italian.
Sound like a diner to you? How about the bar menu: with your pizza or steak or lasagna you can enjoy a Pineapple Cosmo (Citreon vodka, pineapple juice and Cointreau with a li hing mui sugar rim), a Blueberry & Mint Mojito or a pitcher of Sangria. Their wine list includes 22 names, and they also serve a variety of beers, including the very tasty Stella Artois. Of course, they also have Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap, but that’s probably just to keep the diner motif alive.
To sum up: Auntie Pasto’s is clearly not any kind of diner I’ve ever visited, but you’ll be glad of it. MTW