When Jillian and I are on long car trips and we get bored, we start brainstorming about the numerous ways in which we are going to revolutionize and make our fortune in the food industry. Often, this starts with trying to either innovate on some sort of mass-produced frozen food item, or on something that could be passed through a drive-thru window. We’ll pass a few broad concepts back and forth (J: “What about a fast-food fried seafood restaurant?” M: “You mean like Long John Silver’s?” J: “Godammit. Okay, but what about if it weren’t gross?”) before, inevitably, winding up at “The Spaghetti Question.”
Spaghetti seems to be the final frontier, when it comes to food science. For as many things that have become “buffalo wing” flavored, for every pizza that has been turned into a bagel or a roll, and for every single possible cross-pollination of Philly Cheesesteaks and Chinese food, no one seems to have been able to come up with anything new and interesting to do with spaghetti.
It’s puzzling, particularly because many people are already doing some pretty peculiar things with bread, when they eat spaghetti. Children (as well as those eating by themselves in a darkened room,) will readily make spaghetti sandwiches, and even in polite company, many of us will quietly add a bite of bread to a mouthful of spaghetti with meat sauce. There’s crusty garlic bread being swiped through bowls smeared with leftover sauce the world over. You would think, then, that this natural marriage of bread and pasta would lend itself to some sort of new food product, presumably by the people responsible for Hot Pockets.
“What about if you took Smucker’s Uncrustables, but instead of peanut butter and jelly, you filled the white bread pockets with spaghetti,” I’ll ask Jillian. “Nah,” she’ll explain, “the heat of the toaster would never be sufficient to warm the spaghetti through, and plus, what if it broke? It would take months to get all the spaghetti out of your toaster.”
Against her better judgment, Jillian will begin volunteering ideas. “What about if you served pasta in a bread bowl, the way you do with chowder or bisque, so that after you eat the spaghetti, you eat the bowl?” I’ll explain that Domino’s Pizza is already trying that with Chicken Alfredo, and that it tastes somewhat like a dishwasher tablet. As the miles roll by in the car, the ideas will get more and more outlandish, but ultimately, we are never able to produce a new concept or vehicle for eating spaghetti. You can imagine my joy, then, when in my last perusal of an Amato’s menu, my eye caught on a “Spaghetti with Meat Sauce Calzone,” filled with not just pasta and sauce, but extra mozzarella, provolone, and chopped fresh tomatoes, as well…and all for just $7.49.
That specific combination of words is, needless to say, a complete and total outrage. It’s an open-handed slap in the garlic-buttered kisser; enough to make Jillian’s ancestors roll over in their shallow Abbruzi graves. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with Italian food as her family understood and prepared it, an Americanized abomination stuffed in pizza dough and broiled in a high-temp oven. It’s the kind of standardized, soulless carb-load fit only for a marathon runner or someone confined to their sofa by their own size. It’s the kind of thing you spot on the Amato’s menu and think, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious to someday order the spaghetti calzone,” and indeed, it’s something that you snicker over a little bit when you say its name out loud into the telephone. What was unexpected, however, was that it would be everything I’d ever dreamed a new spaghetti delivery system could be.
Though we are a food blog, we’re not going to evaluate this product using any of the normal metrics we would use. This isn’t the Ravioli Milano al Pomodoro from one of the back tables at Paciarino, and can’t be evaluated as it compares to any kind of reasonably thoughtful Italian food. It can’t even really be compared to something you might order by the bucket from a red-sauce Italian place under an elevated train track in Astoria, Queens. The spaghetti with meat sauce from Amato’s is, to my mind, as close as you can come to a “fast food” spaghetti-eating experience, with basic, overly-sweetened tomato sauce designed (engineered!) to please as many palates as possible, with nary a chopped vegetable in sight. There are real chunks of ground beef, though, mixed with little short chopped strands of pasta. The spaghetti with meat sauce is laid bare on Amato’s pizza dough, before being layered with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, as well as the same chopped fresh tomatoes that are included in their other, much more sane calzone creations.
After the calzone comes out of the oven, it is brushed with warm butter, sprinkled with granulated garlic and Parmesan cheese, cut in half and slid into a cardboard box, which begins to immediately spot with leaking grease. I actually was physically blown backwards a step, when I opened the box and was confronted with the reality of something that I thought only existed in my imagination. The calzone was huge, browned, and glistening with butter. One calzone was clearly enough food for at least two people, and I worked through the first part of my half with a knife and fork.
It was a celebration of contrasting texture; each bite of spaghetti was wrapped with warm, buttery, lightly crisped pizza dough. Any spaghetti that fell off my fork could be mopped up with the corner part of the remaining crust. Finally, I was able to pick the whole thing up, dip my spaghetti calzone into the included plastic container of additional sweet marinara sauce, and smile. I was, after all these years, eating spaghetti with my hands, and it was everything that I had hoped it would be. Like many of the things I have ordered from Amato’s, getting the “Spaghetti Calzone” started as a bit of a goof, and ended up being cheap, satisfying, and delicious.