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Cheap eats

I know I've compared a lot of cozy little restaurants to living rooms. But at A Cuoco Pazzo (the name, I am told, means "A crazy chef" in Italian) it's just about literally true.

A Cuoco Pazzo is located in a regular-size house on Transit Road in Depew, at the corner of Airview Terrace. We parked in the parking lot behind the building and walked right into the dining room, which contained five tables. Beyond a staircase leading upstairs, we could see a take-out counter, which seemed fairly busy.

You can get pizza, salads, soups, sandwiches, wings and chicken fingers here, but Pat and I and our spouses, both named John, went for the Italian dinners, which range from spaghetti for $6 to three choices for $10: shrimp marinara or diavalo, fried shrimp or roast beef. We stayed in the middle of the menu. The prices looked good even before we realized that each dinner came with soup or salad and bread.

All the starters were excellent. The salads, in deep bowls, contained utterly fresh iceberg, green and black olives and tomatoes; the chili was chock full of tender meat and beans, and the Stracciatella, a chicken broth with egg and what seemed to be spinach rather than the usual parsley, was delicious.

Our dinners arrived absolutely molten -- so hot that all we could do was sit back and watch them sizzle for a few minutes. Even through our careful first bites, we could tell that everything was delicious. We all agreed that the sauce was excellent, thick, nicely balanced and rich with herbs. "It's not as sweet as some, but very good," said John F. Both John N.'s lasagna ($8.50) and Pat's manicotti ($8.50) were made of perfectly cooked pasta and creamy ricotta and slathered with meat sauce.

John F. ordered a 6-ounce meatball ($2.50) with his spaghetti, and both met with his approval. The pasta was perfectly cooked and sauced, and the meatball was tender but with a slight resistance to the tooth. Its meat and spice balance were superb.

My chicken parm ($9) was top-notch. The large chicken breast was breaded, fried, layered with sauce and garnished with a light coat of cheese. A side of spaghetti meant that half went home.

This place is so tiny that a rush of customers will overwhelm it. A better bet might be to order and pick up food to eat at your own kitchen table -- where, if our experience is any proof, the food will still be steaming when you unwrap it.

-- Anne Neville


A Cuoco Pazzo

6160 Transit Road, Depew


Review: 3 1/2 pennies (Out of 4)

"Homemade Italian."

A Cuoco Pazzo is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. It is handicapped-accessible.

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