We figured we’d skirt the legendary wait at Pagliacci’s by dining on a Sunday. Not a chance. This small, slightly quirky Italian restaurant is a popular destination in downtown Victoria no matter what night of the week it is it seems. And they don’t take reservations (according to their website, they do until 5:30 pm – but the action seems to start later), so you wait with a handful of other hungry folks crammed into the tiny entranceway, or you spill out onto the street and try to forget your growling stomach. Do it. It’s worth it.
Even the wait was kind of fun (and not all that long, really. Or at least not in retrospect when the focus becomes the scrumptious food.) I people-watched, hopefully not too obviously. I enjoyed the awkward conversation between a college aged pair next to us – something about chess clubs and world history classes at their former high schools. First date, for sure. (I hope they’re still together.) Then there was a group of four senior citizens who tried to squish themselves in after us when we were finally summoned, but unfortunately to no avail. They had to wait outside.(Worry not – they were cheerful enough.) The range of ages and group configurations in the waiting area were representative of the guests sardined into the dining room. This was not a place exclusively for the young family, the university set, or the 3 pm dinner crowd – Pagliacci’s is a place for everyone at once.
And I mean everyone. Tables are set with a slightly more than congenial closeness where bumping elbows with your unknown neighbor is not uncommon. The wait staff navigates the tight maze with skill, but is practiced at holding trays overhead and sucking in their stomachs. Pagliacci’s is busy, lively, and…since our wait was over…we were soon to find out why.
We were squeezed into a little table between the wall and the bustling kitchen. Very romantic. Seriously. A little candle burned on the table, we had to lean forward to hear ourselves speak over the din. The warm, spirited feeling of the place was infectious.
The menu was a conversation starter (a good “save” for that couple on their first date!). It follows a movie theme: Appetizers = “Previews”, Main Courses are = “Main Attractions”. Dishes are named after movies and movie stars, and other celebrities. The tortellini is called the “Hemingway Short Story,” and a medallions of veal dish sports the appropriate moniker “The Thin Man”. Photos of various celebrities line the walls, with the suggestion that they all dined and endorse this place. Why not? Because when the food started coming out, it was hard to imagine anyone not being transported to comfort food heaven.
Oh my, I can taste it as I recall it (who cares that I’m writing this at breakfast time – I want pasta and wine!). It all starts with hot ( “piping-hot-from-your-grandmother’s-kitchen” hot) herbed foccacia bread with a generous drizzle of good olive oil. Mmmmmm. We followed it up with the Anitpasti di Niro (yes, di Niro – ya talkin’ to me?) – a delicious mix of Italian salamis, artichokes, roasted garlic (so good spread all over a piece of foccacia), olives and gerkins. We shared the Antipasti and it was just to start, but it was truly a meal in itself. We each ordered a pasta dish for our main course. My “On the Beach” linguine with mushrooms was incredible. Besides the taste – the rich, meaty mushrooms, the fine olive oil, the melt in your mouth cheese, and the remarkable noodles – I remember how hot the dish was. There’s something so comforting about a dish that is so hot it sings – someone rushed from the kitchen to get that plate under my nose so that the first swirl of linguine around your fork was “right out of the pot.” A hot meal like that suggests that you are loved and cherished. Is that too much to take away from a restaurant? Who cares!
As for dessert, we couldn’t possibly. No way. Only afterward did we hear of Pagiliacci’s reputation for having the best Cheesecake in Victoria. Though we can’t bear personal witness, if desserts were anything like the meal, the legends are to be believed.
Did I mention how reasonably priced the menu is? The quality is all the more impressive when you tally up the low prices. The generous antipasti, for instance, was only six dollars. You’d have trouble scaring up a hearty pasta dish that was more than 12 dollars. The full entrees were 18 dollars at most, and they came with bread, vegetables, salad AND pasta. A true value, without scrimping at all on taste or quantity.
I highly recommend that you stop at Pagliacci’s!
Pagliacci’s is located in downtown Victoria on 1011 Broad St. For more information, call (250) 386-1662.