Park Road Pasta Kitchen is now open at 14-16 Oakwood Avenue in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Envision Sunday supper at grandma’s house – a family dinner that might start off with antipasti, Caesar salad with a generous sprinkling of shaved cheese, big bowls of pasta, overflowing platters of chicken parm or maybe spaghetti and meatballs – classic Italian comfort food that appeals to tastebuds of all ages. That’s the vibe chef/owner Tony Camilleri and co-owners Stretch Altenhein and James LaFond have created at Park Road Pasta Kitchen.
In just two weeks, they have transformed the Mexican atmosphere of their now-former Toro Taberna space into a family-friendly classic Italian restaurant. Modeled in part after New York City’s iconic Carmine’s Italian Restaurant, PK’s pasta dishes, entrees, and starters are all available in individual portions as well as family-style made for sharing. Prices are moderate, and the individual dishes are definitely quite ample on their own – and even those with the heartiest appetites will not leave hungry.
“This is about families getting together,” said Tom Gale, the general manager.
There’s a full cocktail menu, beers on draft, and plenty of Italian wines by the glass or bottle. As a perfect complement, a house red sangiovese table wine is available by the glass as well, half jug, or a full 32-ounce jug.
“I’ve been talking about Italian comfort food for a while,” Camilleri said. “I miss cooking Italian food, I have a strong background,” he said, and he and his partners had been looking at spaces throughout the area. They were getting together for a meeting, and craving old school Italian food, when they realized it’s a concept that could be a great fit for West Hartford, particularly outside the Center, so they decided to transform the Toro Taberna space.
The bread that arrives on the table is like a mini-pizza – lightly fried dough topped with red sauce and sprinkled with parmigiana and chopped basil leaves.
In addition to a selection of meats and cheeses, starters are available in personal sizes ($8-$13) or family style intended for three or four people to share. Highlights include meatballs, garlicky cheese bread (whipped ricotta, parmesan, fresh mozzarella, and lots of garlic), arancini balls with red sauce or truffle aioli, and – of course – fried calamari with a Calabrian chili aioli.
A selection of salads are also available in individual portions or family-style for the table to share. All salads can become full meals with the addition of chicken Milanese, grilled shrimp, or herbed salmon.
Fried dough – aka personal pizzas – can be topped with a variety of meats and veggies.
Pasta naturally has a prominent place on the menu at Park Road Pasta Kitchen, with selections that range from traditional spaghetti and meatballs, to pesto rigatoni, cavetelli with sausage and broccoli rabe, and fettuccini Alfredo. For those craving seafood, there’s a ricotta gnocchi and shrimp or Fra Diavolo with shrimp, mussels, and clams in a spicy sauce served with spaghetti. Generous individual portions start at $13, and all pastas are available family-style as well.
Entrees – all served with pasta on the side – include parmigiana in chicken, veal, or eggplant versions, chicken marsala, and salmon crusted with herbed breadcrumbs. The chicken is so tender that a knife isn’t needed. Individual entrees start at $19, and all are available in family size as well.
For those in a “sandwich” mood, a Franklin Ave grinder also fits the classic Italian mode. It’s a cutlet sandwich – beef, chicken, eggplant, or veal – on a 14-inch roll with sauce, provolone, and roasted peppers. The “Italian Job” includes all the meats as well as prosciutto, sweet coppa hot soppressata, salami, lettuce, and peppers, topped with a vinaigrette.
Desserts are recommended, even if you think you can’t possibly eat anything more. Light and airy tiramisu, cannolis, chocolate hazelnut cake topped with luxardo cherries, and a plate of cookies (which includes a chocolate dream cookie), are among the selections.
Toro Taberna had a completely gluten-free menu, as do the other restaurants under the same ownership (Toro Mexican Street Food on Raymond Road and Toro Loco in Farmington), and while Park Road Pasta Kitchen’s menu is not devoid of gluten, nearly every dish can be prepared gluten-free, Gale said.
“We have two featured gluten-free pastas every night,” Gale said, which can be used in any of the entrees. There is gluten-free bread available, cauliflower crust pizzas, and the parmigiana can be prepared without breading. The food is prepared on separate surfaces, so it’s safe for those who have celiac disease.
The chocolate cake is naturally gluten-free as well.
The bar has been reconfigured, and the interior has been lightened up with gray paint and plenty of red and white accents. New booths have been installed, and tables can be combined to accommodate large groups.
Sports are broadcast on the TV over the bar, but two other video screens show classic movies.
While West Hartford has other restaurants that serve Italian fare, Park Road Pasta Kitchen’s old school style, and emphasis on family-size portions, sets it apart. “It fills a void,” Camilleri said.
Park Road Pasta Kitchen had a successful soft opening on Sunday, and is now open seven days a week for dinner. Hours are Sunday from 4-9 p.m.; Monday from 3 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3 to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday from 3 to 11 p.m. Lunch service will be added in a few weeks, Camilleri said.
The website is still being finalized, but the menu can be found here. Call 860-773-4003 for more information.
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