By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
There's a Psketti line of clothing, P'sghetti's restaurants in Missouri, and fleetingly a Pssghetti's in Clearwater. Why are we so charmed by mispronouncing spaghetti? We don't seem as likely to chuckle over libary, say, or expresso. Longtime Dunedin restaurateur Jimmy Stewart has followed the noodle nonsense and opened Bascetti's Italian Grille on Main Street in Dunedin. I'm not going to hold it against him because the "bascetti" in question is darn fine.
I've always had a fondness for his other restaurant, the nearby Spoto's Steak Joint 2. Stewart sets a feverish pace for coming up with new dishes, packing in so many happy hour specials and wild game dinners that emails are spit out as regularly as that one from the Nigerian prince who needs somewhere to dock his fortune. He seems constantly in a state of reinvention, not content to stick with just the steaks.
Turns out, he's always wanted to do an authentic Italian restaurant as well, one with house-made pastas and simple, gutsy pizzas and salads. In July he took over a little strip mall spot that used to house Pugz Bar and Grill, and now he's shuttling between there and Spoto's every day.
The restaurant space itself is pleasant and inviting, nothing super fancy, but with generous booths and white-clothed tables, a separate barroom featuring a long, marble-topped bar and comfy leather bar stools. Service is similarly warm, not too formal, with waiters like Ed willing and able to guide you through the short two-page menu.
Frankly, you won't need a lot of guidance — you've seen these dishes before. Stewart sends out some of the best mussels in white wine ($9) I've had in ages, the flavor of fennel and Pernod lush in the buttery, garlicky broth. Not a bad complement to the grilled Caesar ($8), whole romaine leaves smoky, slightly warm and tossed with a punchy anchovy dressing. You'll be vampire-repellent with this twosome, then add in a pizza of the day, ours a mixed veggie version ($16) with artichokes, peppers and little caramelized onions. Crust is sturdy and chewy, not wafer-thin, but not puffy.
It's a nice pie, but it's Stewart's pastas that make Bascetti's a welcome addition to the already packed Dunedin dining scene. When was the last time you had penne carbonara ($16), creamy with egg and parmesan, dotted with pancetta? So simple but so satisfying. The same could be said of pappardelle bolognese ($16), although if you're a cook you know just how complex these classic meat sauces can be — this one a chunky/creamy version without even a whiff of tomato to it, the wide house-made noodles a velvety counterpoint.
The Bascetti's kitchen makes a very respectable cheesecake, but I'd say dessert presentations can undermine their appeal somewhat, the sauce squiggles and whipped cream poofs and cinnamon sprinkles making the plates a little slatternly. Like the little black dress that gets lost under too much jewelry, sometimes less is more. Still, a wedge of chocolate cheesecake or wineglass full of tiramisu make nice meal-enders at Bascetti's, maybe even with a shot of expresso.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.