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Build your own dish at In and Out Pasta

When the wind chill is several dozen degrees below zero, the snow is piled higher than eye level and there’s no end to these frigid winter nights in sight, what do you crave most? Besides a beach house Florida, I mean.

For me, it’s a big dish of warm, filling comfort food. My boyfriend, David, and I found such carbohydrate-laden goodness on a recent visit to In & Out Pasta in Amherst.

Tucked away in the University Place plaza off Sweet Home Road – within the labyrinth of roads that surround and dissect the University at Buffalo North Campus – In & Out Pasta is the college student’s dream. It accepts UB’s “Campus Cash” and provides a tasty, quick and fairly cheap alternative for those looking for more variety than standard dining hall fare.

The restaurant offers exactly what its name would suggest: a variety of pastas, toppings and sauces, set up in a cafeteria-style line. Picture Chipotle, but swap out the burritos for precooked pasta and the guac for marinara. There also are homemade soups available by the cup or quart, and a small salad bar with the usual fixings and dressings.

There were only two workers – both looked to be college-age – manning the line during our visit, but they did a great job keeping things moving along. First up: the noodles. There was spaghetini – a thin sort of spaghetti – plus linguini, penne and bow tie for $5.99 per helping. Cheese ravioli and tortellini, as well as whole-grain and gluten-free pastas run $6.49. I ordered penne, while Dave got fancy with cheese ravioli.

Next in line came the vegetable options, most of which are free to add. Sundried tomatoes, quartered artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers cost an additional 50 cents. After careful selection, I loaded up with julienned carrots and zucchini, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.

There also is a variety of meats to add to your dish, including Italian sausage and meatballs ($2), chicken ($3) and shrimp, steak and salmon ($4). I opted to keep my dish vegetarian, but Dave asked for meatballs.

Finally, we came to the sauces. White clam sauce costs an extra 75 cents, but everything else – from Alfredo to Bolognese to creamy pesto – is included. I chose a sauce of olive oil with garlic, basil and butter, and Dave went with a traditional marinara.

Our chosen ingredients were sautéed until toasty and thoroughly mixed, then deposited in sturdy, microwave-safe to-go dishes – a nice touch, since the portions were large enough to provide another meal or two.

Both dishes of pasta came with a buttery, flaky dinner roll, and we added a side salad ($2.99) and two fountain drinks ($1.75 each). Though we didn’t get any, there also was tiramisu and almond torte dessert options ($4).

The restaurant is tan with burgundy and buttermilk yellow touches throughout in its display menus and decorations, and it has a comfortable, slightly retro feel. There is plenty of seating including patio tables outside for warmer seasons. We found ourselves a corner booth and dug in. Though college students abounded the night we visited In & Out Pasta, several families with small children were also enjoying themselves.

Our pasta was hot and delicious. Dave noted that his portion seemed smaller than mine, but I reminded him that had he bulked up on the veggies, it probably would have been twice the dish for the same price. My dish was divine, exactly what I was looking to dive into after a rough Monday. The vegetables were fresh and the sauce was very tasty. My only complaint is that I wish they had used less olive oil or drained some of it before plating my pasta; there was easily a half inch of standing olive oil in my container.

In & Out Pasta’s slogan is “Better Food, Fast.” That pretty much sums it up – it’s heartier and tastier than fast food but still served quickly and conveniently.

In & Out Pasta

1280 Sweet Home Road, University Place, Amherst (688-9500, www.inandoutpasta.com, www.facebook.com/InandOutPasta)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

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