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At Cafe Garangelo, pasta with a future

A FEW PEOPLE I know are going to be angry with me when they read this. Sorry, R., and sorry, B. For months now they've been telling me about this tiny restaurant on Hertel Avenue not too far from Delaware Avenue that once was a pizza parlor -- in fact, it still is.

"But don't write about it," they begged.

But, sigh, duty comes first. And besides, Cafe GarAngelo is too good a place to pass over. Just please don't be surprised if you get here and find people stacked against the door. There are, after all, only 14 tables. Two of which are right in the pizza parlor next to the Coca-Cola case.

The dining room is next door, and it's very pretty with gray walls, carpeting and comfortable seating.

A picture of the pope exiting an Alitalia jet hangs on the wall.

The first thing the waitress did after we were seated was put an order of Gorgonzola bread into the oven for us. That was hospitable, and besides, this stuff is terrific -- it's served hot and oozing blue cheese. Totally habit-forming, in other words.

Two big hunks come with your entree, but it's worth ordering the bread a la carte anyway. It's listed under Appetizers on the menu.

Other appetizers include a Stuffed Artichoke ($3.95) and Stuffed Calamari with Garlic and Tomato.

You also can order Beans and Greens.

Soups came next. The Italian Wedding Soup (chicken broth with meatballs, $2.25) was pretty tasty, though it could have been warmer. Ditto the Minestrone, the special of the evening. It had a good rich broth and plenty of fresh vegetables.

The list of pastas is awesome at Cafe GarAngelo. Note a special section devoted to Pasta Specialties, which run in the $7 range. These include Spinach Fettucini ($8.95) with shrimp, mushrooms and onions in a tomato cream sauce, and Ziti with Spicy Sausage (also fresh basil, cream and tomato sauce).

But if you don't want to go for the plutocrat pasta, just turn the menu over and find simple pastas listed. No adjectives. The Companion did just that and ended up with Spaghetti with Spinach a la Olio for all of $4.50.

And it was terrific. Great big leaves of fresh spinach, lots of pasta, lots of garlic, lots of oil. "I'm taking some of this home for lunch tomorrow," he murmured. But it was not to be. Fifteen minutes later, his plate was absolutely clean.

I, on the other hand, got too fancy. I ordered Osso Buco ($9.95) -- according to the menu, the veal shank was "stewed in red wine sauce over risotto."

Just OK, I'm afraid. The meat was tender, but the thick brown sauce over everything put me off. It tasted like gravy from a can.

And the risotto was really just cooked rice -- although it was Arborio rice, I saw no evidence of slow cooking with any broth added. Actually, I should have ordered what R. told me to -- Veal GarAngelo. This involves meat, roasted eggplant, tomato, prosciutto and provolone ($8.95). Ah well -- next time. (If I'm able to get into the place, that is.)

Sandwich specials at the cafe include the Florentine (chicken breast, Gorgonzola and spinach, of course. It's a funny thing, but nobody I have spoken with who was actually born in the city of Florence, Italy, knows anything about using spinach in dishes.)

And the Plant (roasted eggplant on garlic bread). And the Boss (meatballs smothered in mozzarella). Or simply the Cutlet (breaded veal cutlet on garlic bread).

DINING OUT

CAFE GARANGELO ** 1/2
1197 Hertel Ave. (875-5057). Former pizza place diversifies; puts in a small but comfortable dining room -- good idea. The menu lists Italian favorites plus many unusual pastas. Big hearty sandwiches, too. No wine or beer as yet. No credit cards.

BEST DISH: Gorgonzola Bread.

NEEDS WORK: Osso Buco.

PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $6.95 include soup or salad, side of pasta and bread. Sandwiches from $3.25. Pastas from $4.

SERVICE: Good.

HOURS: Mon. through Fri. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat. 4 to 11 p.m.

HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast, Ditalini with Lentils, Baby Shells and Peas with Red Sauce.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.

PARKING: On the street.
KEY: *FAIR, **GOOD, ***VERY GOOD, ****EXCELLENT, *****EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.

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