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CHEAP EATS

Casa di Pizza

477 Elmwood Ave.

883-8200

4 pennies (out of four)

"la dolce vita"

You know that scene in Puccini's "La Boheme" when the young artists are dining in their Parisian garret? They don't have much money. But they've managed to scare up sausage, wine and bread. And this being an Italian opera, you know pasta is in there somewhere.

Bohemian Buffalonians can enjoy similar plenty thanks to Casa di Pizza's Pasta Special, offered between 4 and 8 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For $8.95, you get a big salad, followed by pasta, accompanied by Italian bread, followed by dessert. And they throw in a glass of wine, too!

Three of us gals showed up one recent Tuesday. Excitedly, we contemplated our options. Pasta can be either spaghetti or penne. Three different tomato sauces are offered, too -- with mushrooms, meatballs or sausage.

As far as the wine for the special, you order it off the house wine list. Choose from Chianti, burgundy, Lambrusco, chablis, chardonnay, the usual suspects. If you're not getting the special, the wine is $3.15 a glass.

You can call the wine unpretentious. We three wine drinkers called it simple and comforting on a cold night.

Service was brisk. The salads arrived in generous bowls about 7 inches across. Iceberg dominated, but there were other greens tucked in there, too. Dressing comes on the side -- good thing, because we had to save some calories for the rest of our multicourse meal.

A basket lined with red and white checked paper held Italian bread, along with real butter and a nice bowl of olive oil and parmesan dipping sauce.

And then the pasta! Huge bowls we're talking. The noodles were blanketed in a thick tomato sauce, thick and rich, definitely on the sweet side. The mushroom sauce is overflowing with mushrooms -- fresh, not canned. The sausage pasta was served up in homely simplicity, with two fat sausages, spicy rather than sweet, plopped atop the mountain of penne.

The meatballs were good in an old-fashioned, Little Italy way. You get two of them, made of finely ground meat, not aggressively spicy, immensely comforting to bite into.

We all had leftovers.

And dessert. You're offered lemon ice or my no-brainer choice, spumoni. It was quite a treat -- a generous cupful of the stuff, nicely softened, with chunks of pistachio.

What can you say after a bargain like that? Nothing but "Oh! dolce fine d'ogni mio dolore." It means "Oh, sweet end to all my sadness." It's from an opera. Puccini, of course.

11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. Wheelchair-accessible.