Like an Old Italian Friend….
If you have been here, chances are good that Pasta House proprietor Joe Guzzardi will remember you as soon as you walk in the door. On my second visit, he allowed that it being a crowded Friday evening and we were without reservations, there would be a long wait for a table. Then he remembered me, saying “I remember you. [Must be my unforgettable voice.] You been here two months back. Follow me, I got a table for you.” And so it goes at Joe’s Pasta House.
Joe’s Pasta House reminds me of the countless small neighborhood Italian restaurants that dotted the Bronx and Brooklyn areas where I started out life. There’s a reason: Rio Rancho is like NYC neighborhoods transplanted to New Mexico. Listen to the accent spoken here. There’s no mistaking that the food is as it genuine as it was back there.
The Rio Rancho area was originally part of the Alameda Grant, which was founded by the Spanish in 1710. By the early twentieth century, much of the land grant had been sold to land investment companies. Amrep Corporation purchased 55,000 acres in 1961 and turned the land into a housing development called “Rio Rancho Estates” with the first families moving in the early 1960s, most of whom were New Yorkers. The population grew tenfold between 1970 and 1980, and the City of Rio Rancho was incorporated in 1981. The opening of a large Intel Corporation plant in 1981 had a major economic impact on the city.
Since the 1990s, Rio Rancho has taken steps to become more independent from neighboring Albuquerque, including the establishment of separate school and library systems and attempts to attract businesses to the area. The city’s latest project is the Downtown City Centre development that includes a new city hall building, a new UNM West and CNM campus as well as the Santa Ana Star Center. The arena opened in October 2006. City Hall opened in September 2007.
We enjoyed our first visit so much that we returned with our gastronome friends of some 40 years, Sally and Andy from Taos. Good choice, they said.
The menu lists many standard Italian dishes as well as house specialties, mostly pastas. None of us got beyond the pastas. We have had, at various times:
- Southwestern Shrimp Fettuccine — Jumbo shrimp with green chile, crushed red peepers, and parmigiano cream sauce tossed with fettuccine pasta. Delicious.
Carbonara — Fettuccine (or Ziti — my preference) pasta, green peas, red onions, and prosciutto in light pink sauce. Delicious, and very rich. My favorite version of this disk in the Duke City. Please have a glass of their very fine dark red Zinfandel. It gomplements the dish and stands uo very well to the carbonara spicing. Lightly tannic with a terrific finish.
- Ravioli Rustica — Round cheese-filled pasta in a tomato cream sauce with Italian sausage and fresh herbs and spices. Wonderful.
Baked Lasagna — One of the very best lasagnas in town. My geust for this meal loved the lasagna, and allowed that the sauce was better than most that he had ever had. This seems to be a hallmark of Joe’s: all the sauces are superb. Fresh, tasty, and perfectly spiced, never in-your-face.
- Traditional Gnocchi — Potato gnocchi topped with tomato sauce, served with meatballs and Italian sausage. Gnocchi is among Jane’s childhood favorites. This may be the best she ever had.
Ziti Florentina — Ziti with spinach, mushrooms, tomatos in a lovely white wile buttery and lightly garlicky sauce. This is among the best versions of this classic dish that I have tasted. The sauce is incomparable.
The service was exemplary. Everyone knew our name. Joe kept stopping by making sure that everything was OK (it was better than OK, Joe).
So you order calamari in an Italian restaurant and it usually comes out deep fried with a boring red sauce on the side, right?
Try Joe’s Mediterranean Calamari when it’s on special. If it isn’t, beg for it. Maybe Joe and Kassie will make it part of the regular menu.
Fried Calamari topped with Warm Feta Cheese, Capers, Artichoke Hearts, Red Onions and Calamata Olives in a Lemon Butter Sauce. Outrageously good.
I love red sauce stuff, but some of the whites are crazy good. You really need to try the Sea Bass and the Lobster Ravioli. Both are beautifully rich and tasty.
And speaking about rich and outrageously tasty, treat yourself to the Cannoli. .
Alas, Bob Morris, the Italian opera baritone is no longer here. Joe told me that Bob had relocated to Florida (their gain; our loss). There is now a gifted guitarist playing cool, soft jazz. Fine sound.
See you again, Joe. Soon as my waistline will allow. Ciao.
Joe Guzzardi of Joe’s Pasta House talks to The Visionaries
Joe’s Pasta House