You never know where you will discover an unexpected carryout pleasure.
My most surprising recent find was Pasta Plus, which sits in a rather homely shopping plaza tucked in between the north- and southbound lanes of U.S. 1 in Laurel.
It turns out that Pasta Plus is run by two brothers from northern Italy and has been in operation for years, selling homemade pasta, delicious pizza and other dishes at reasonable prices. The brothers have a full-fledged restaurant as well as a separate space devoted to us carryout patrons. It is decorated pleasantly with lots of tiles and antique-looking light fixtures, and we could hear opera from the kitchen in the back, always a good sign.
Service was excellent. The efficient young woman at the counter was not fazed by the hungry crowd on a busy Sunday evening, never stopped smiling and gave a wonderful recommendation for dessert. And the food was ready in just a few minutes, a tribute to an obviously adept kitchen staff.
We started with tortellini in brodo ($3.50), which had homemade, meat-stuffed pasta in a nice, not-too-salty chicken broth.
We loved the crespoline ($8.50), an Italian crepe stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, and covered with a chunky and quite good tomato sauce. The creation was somewhere between manicotti and ravioli.
Spaghetti with meatballs ($8.50) had fresh-made pasta with the same fine tomato sauce and delicious meatballs, seasoned with garlic and parsley. The entrees came with small salads, fresh and crusty rolls and small plastic containers of finely shaved parmesan cheese, a nice touch.
The pizza ($7.40 for a small) was cooked in a wood oven and came with a delicious thin crust and spicy sausage slices. It was one of the best we have had in a good long while.
Our only disappointment, and it was a modest one, was the rotisserie chicken ($5.99 for half a bird), which was nicely flavored but a bit dry, perhaps after sitting too long in the warming case.
We went a bit overboard on desserts. The dolce di latte ($3.95) was an elegant, compact custard with a hint of lemon and topped with caramel. Two Italian cakes ($4.50 each) were also above average. One had layers of chocolate cream topped with crunchy hazelnut bits. The second, which was recommended by our server, featured raspberries and cream. Who could ask for anything more?
Food: *** 1/2
Waiting area: ***
Parking: ** 1/2
Where: 209 Gorman Ave., Laurel
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Italian soups, appetizers, salads, pizza and entrees from $3.50 to $18.95; credit cards accepted