Sunday, September 23, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: Don Rigatoni in Tampa offers quick, affordable pastas and sauces perfect for takeout

TAMPA - It makes a ton of sense, now that carb-phobia has abated and there are legitimately decent gluten-free pasta options available: a place with 20 types of pastas, a dozen sauces, all mix-and-match to suit your tastes, plus add-ons from meatballs to grilled shrimp and all of it available to go in sturdy plastic containers that you are so reusing. (Just don't dishwash the lids, they warp.)

Don Rigatoni is a new affordable and customizable pasta bar in South Tampa just a stone's throw from the Greenwise Publix, run by the folks who had La Casa della Pasta on Ehrlich Road for 12 years. Husband and wife Enrico Tangari and Sara Pape have fashioned a charming little space, with a couple of lounge chairs and a short bar where you can either wait for your takeout food or tuck in on site. The walls are hung with packing crates that have been stained to look like old barn lumber; black-and-white pictures, like one of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone, orient you about the cuisine in question.

You want long? Spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle, etc. Macaroni shapes? Orecchiette, farfalle. Stuffed? Ravioli, tortellini, lasagna. Looking for a little more razzle-dazzle? Lobster ravioli, squid ink spaghetti, spinach gnocchi. All of these are $10 with your choice of sauce, so your kids can share an order of simple oil and garlic or just a basic cream sauce, and you can rev the engine a little with some anchovy-punchy puttanesca or a zingy (but I'd like to see it a little hotter) arrabbiata.


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Everyone's happy, capiche? Orders are plenty big and come with plastic-wrapped lengths of good crusty baguette. And if you want to bulk things up, you can go for slices of grilled chicken ($4), a passel of mussels or clams (each $6), rounds of house-made spicy sausage ($4) or even steamed broccoli florets ($4).

I've tried a bunch of combinations and found the pastas to be consistently well-cooked and the sauces balanced and homey-tasting. The principessa sauce and the alla vodka (both tomato sauces lightened and richened with cream) are worthy of licking the bowl clean, and the lasagna is up there with Osteria Natalina for Tampa Bay's tops. The desserts really shine as textbook examples of their type: There's a perfect square of tiramisu ($6), ethereal but vibrant with intense coffee flavor and not too sweet, and a quintet of small cannoli ($8) where the shells are extra crisp and the sweetened ricotta filling just right.

There are a few oddball things about Don Rigatoni, but nothing that can't be fixed. On two occasions, lentil ($5) and pasta e fagioli ($5) soups were shockingly salty (weird given the fact that the pasta sauces all seemed expertly calibrated), and the tomato slices on an otherwise pleasant caprese salad ($5) were frozen. That seems like a simple refrigerator thermostat adjustment, maybe just a new-restaurant bobble — as might be a tendency to not answer their phone. (No one picked up on three different occasions.)

Still, Tangari and Pape are consummately gracious and have chosen a smart little location, with lots of busy South Tampa families zipping by on nearby Platt or Cleveland streets, dropping off kids at practice or picking up the dry cleaning. The owners clearly have a following from their Casa della Pasta days — I met one guy who had pilgrimaged from Brandon because he was so enthusiastic about the authenticity of their sauces. (Tangari is from Bari, the capital of the Puglia region in Italy.)

If you can't muster the psych to get out of your chair, Don Rigatoni is working with UberEats for delivery. But while app-based ordering is so 2017, there remains something timeless and comforting about a bowl of hearty penne bolognese or fat gnocchi pillows tossed in an emerald green pesto.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

     
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