Restaurant News & Reviews

Sugo’s serves up crowd-pleasing Italian classics

As the name implies, there’s a whole lot of fork twirling at Sugo’s Spaghetteria.

The casual, family-style Italian eatery, which opened in May in an Overland Park strip mall, is the first spaghetteria (pronounced spa-GET-ter-ria) in the Kansas City area for St. Louis-based restaurateur Michael Del Pietro. His pedigree includes maternal grandparents who owned Rossino’s Pizzeria and parents who owned Del Pietro’s, an upscale Italian restaurant, both just off the Hill, St. Louis’ famed Italian immigrant neighborhood.

Both family restaurants closed in recent years. In 2008 Michael struck out on his own, opening three Sugo’s: one in St. Louis, one in Edwardsville, Ill., and now here. And he’s looking for a Kansas City location. His prolific track record during times of economic strife prompted

writer George Mahe to write: “The man cranks out restaurants like Ellen DeGeneres cranks out jokes, and with an equally good sense of timing.”

Despite his Hill background, Sugo’s is an updated mom-and-pop type of shop. Enter and you’re greeted by a hostess behind a butcher-block wine bar. Early on a recent Saturday night, the restaurant was nearly full. Parties of two to four dotted the dining room. The tall ceiling made the space feel larger than its actual square footage.

The décor is a cross between rustic and minimalist, a mix of burnt-orange walls, cement floors and unremarkable but comfortable dark wood tables sans tablecloths. On one wall, a giant chalkboard features the menu. Votives and self-serve glass carafes are the only adornments. The kitchen has windows to the dining room. Black shutters partly cover windows that overlook the parking lot.

OK, design-driven it’s not. But Sugo’s is certainly comfortable enough and downright affordable (no entrée over $18, and the majority hover around $10). The streamlined yet crowd-pleasing menu based on fresh ingredients doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are three antipasti, three salads, nine pastas, five pizzas and three piatti del giorno, or plates of the day (one chicken, one veal, one fish).

To keep hunger pangs at bay, the meal starts with a plate of soft, warm bread served with a ramekin of melted butter and another of Parmesan crumbs to dip into. Antipasti choices are simple: a garlicky bruschetta with wan tomatoes (hey, it’s winter) punched up a bit with fresh basil. The marinated olives are standard issue, and the cheese is a serviceable crumbling of gorgonzola and shavings of Parmesan. The best appetizer was the eggplant Parmigiano, three tender slices of eggplant lightly breaded and napped in a light, fresh tomato sauce.

Salads come individually plated, but we were a large group, so the server offered to bring entrée salads for $8 per platter. We sampled the Del Pietro, a standard iceberg, romaine, Parmigiano cheese, onions, tomatoes and vinaigrette salad, which the teenagers at our table pronounced the best. I favored the fresh field greens with gorgonzola, red onions and balsamic vinaigrette. Others noted that the Caesar was particularly cheesy, although purposely lacking a traditional anchovy zing that is almost never appreciated by the masses.

I tried a wide sampling of the main event: the pasta dishes. They included the fresh-tasting pomodoro, the well-balanced pollo Alfredo, the garlicky funghi with spinach in an earthy but straightforward mushroom broth, and the tutto mare in a shrimp broth with shrimp, clams and crabmeat. The pasta alla griglia was a special of the day, and it featured breaded and sautéed shrimp, as well as butternut squash cubes.

Red-and-white checked traditionalists (including my daughter) should prepare to be wowed by the sheer size of the two meatballs served on top. They are as large as softballs. No kidding.

Something so grandiose might spell a dry and crumbly disaster. However, in this case the meatballs were tender, moist and cooked all the way through. The recipe is Del Pietro’s mother’s, a mixture of beef, pork, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and egg yolk for binding and richness. And, yes, he’ll concede they are “decent-sized” meatballs.

On one visit I couldn’t help coveting the giant slab of lasagna I saw several women order at the next table. It was enough for dinner and another lunch. Likewise, the one-size-fits-all pizzas (10 inches) are good for sharing as an appetizer or sharing with another for an entree. The thin, lightly floured, Neapolitan-style crust is topped with several carnivorous (the sugo: sausage, hamburger, pepperoni and bacon) and vegetarian options (classic margarita and a mushroom with roasted garlic and a hint of truffle oil).

Sugo’s offers one dessert: a not-too-sweet, not-too-espresso-heavy tiramisu for $4. The decision to start out with only one choice dates back to the opening of the first restaurant, where refrigerator space was at a premium. But I kind of like the streamlined approach.

Star rating

Food: ★★½

Service: ★★½

Atmosphere: ★½

Star code:

★ Fair, ★★ Good, ★★★ Excellent, ★★★★ Extraordinary

Code of ethics:

Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits.

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