Chow Town

The best Italian food in Gladstone, served at a car wash

Fried ravioli at Dominic’s Italian Express
Fried ravioli at Dominic’s Italian Express Special to The Star

Pasta and Suds, and interesting combination. Sure it’s a car wash…but look a little closer.

How about a wax…and lunch? Not as strange as it sounds.

Spring is a boundless time of year. Everything is starting to turn green, and my garden is starting to sprout. Of course, the downside to spring is that there is an abundant amount of pollen that seems to be attracted to my car.

So imagine my surprise the other day when I’m driving on North Oak looking for a car wash, and I see a lighted sign flashing CAR WASH. Perfect. As I turn in, all of a sudden the same flashing sign is now advertising “Italian Steak Sandwich,” then “Fresh Home Made Lasagna,” “Meatball Sandwich,” “Chicken Spedini,” and “Try Our Tiramisu Cannolis.” WAIT! What is going on here? Is this a joke?

What’s going on here is that I just turned in to The Better Wash and Dominic’s Italian Express (located at 6902 North Oak Trafficway in Gladstone). Yes, it’s both. Apparently this is a Northland favorite. Even though I’m from the Northland, I had never heard of the place.

I initially posted this online in one of the food forums as sort of a joke. I posted a picture of that flashing, puzzling sign and asked “Would you eat here?” To my surprise, the fans of Dominic’s are plenty and lit up the food forums with lots of positive feedback.

I’ve got to be honest: I really wasn’t planning on trying this place. But after all those online comments, I thought that I’d better change my mind. After all, my wife Gay and I are known for dining at places from no stars to four stars. And after one commenter pointed out “Your favorite BBQ place is in a gas station,” I had to relent. I just hadn’t ever considered dining at a place that would offer me Spedini and a wax…that’s all.

So the next weekend we pulled up to the drive-in window and ordered. We got the Italian steak sandwich and the fried ravioli. The food did not come right out, which told me that they were cooking this to order. OK, so things are looking up so far. Soon, a white paper bag was handed to us with the goods inside. And although there was plenty of room to pull over and eat next to the guys that were drying off their cars, we instead decided to go next door and eat in the parking lot of the abandoned Taco Bell that I used to frequent as a teenager (but that’s another story).

Our first impression as we opened the boxes was “damn, this food is hot!” as the steam mushroomed out of the containers. Further evidence that this had been freshly prepared and not sitting around for someone to finally order.

As I started on the ravioli, Gay started with the Italian steak sandwich. At the same time, both of our eyes widened as we said “this is really good” (but sounded more like “biff is illy ood” with our mouths so full of food).

Now the real eating started. There was so much biting, chewing and dipping going on, you would have thought we hadn’t eaten breakfast. Now that I think of it, we may not have. Either way, this food hit the spot. In fact, it is was so good that my wife, who usually lets me have slightly larger portions, was being so exact in splitting the food down the middle you would have thought she had a ruler with her. “That’s two and a half ravioli each,” she barked. Geez, somebody’s getting a bit “hangry.”

The ravioli were perfectly fried — just enough to get that nice golden brown, but not to the point where the edges were dry and hard. The cheesy goodness on the inside was tasty — and hot. That didn’t slow us down much, however. Dunking the ravioli into the marinara sauce helped balance the temperature and of course intensified the flavor.

The Italian steak sandwich also had that perfect golden color. And it was big, spilling out of a delicious soft hoagie roll. Combine that with more marinara sauce, Parmesan cheese…let’s just say our shirts looked like we didn’t have proper table manners. Hey, we’re in the parking lot of an abandoned Taco Bell! Who cares? I hadn’t had an Italian steak this good in years…and yes, I have been looking recently.

The point is, the food, whether served in carry-out or dine-in format, was really good and exceeded our expectations. More importantly, Dominic’s passed our ultimate question we always ask after trying a new place: Would you go back? Our answer from this experience is a resounding YES. And maybe next time I’ll try the Tiramisu Cannolis…and get the car washed.