Comella's in West Roxbury is spic-and-span clean, but in one way, it's a real mess. "Mess" is what the Comella family specializes in: There are nearly three dozen listed on the menu, starting with "Ma's Mess" and ending with "The Ultimate Mess."
What's a "mess"? According to the menu, it's a "mystery recipe" with a secret ingredient. It's basically a pasta-based dish - lasagna, shells, penne, and the like - with add-ons, much like an ice cream parlor starts with a base and mixes in other good stuff.
It all started years ago at the first Comella's in Wellesley. At the end of the day, the family didn't know what to do with all the unused sauce, pasta, eggplant, and veal. An idea was born: Why not create a "leftover mess"?
The concept was so popular with customers that the idea was refined to move mess from the "leftover" category to main billing on the menu. "Today, everything in the messes is made that day, fresh," says Matthew Comella, who runs the three restaurants - the other is in West Newton - with his brother John Paul. Their father, Gene, was the founder and now consults with his sons on the business.
At Comella's, you order at the counter, and they'll either call your name or bring your meal to you, depending on how busy they are. There are only 25 seats, and the restaurant does a brisk takeout business. Comella's is not the place to go if you're on a diet. The West Roxbury site opened a couple of months ago as a casual restaurant serving homemade-style food at affordable prices.
We tried several messes and especially liked Grandpa's Mess ($6.99), a heaping helping of penne shells, homemade meatballs, and spicy sausage, all baked in a marinara sauce and topped with gooey cheese. It's a hearty and flavorful dish, and yes, it is a mess. Help yourself to lots of napkins.
As a pasta alternative, try the chicken Caesar salad ($7.99), crisp leaves served on a cold plate with chunky croutons, a light dressing, and a generous amount of grilled chicken.
But back to the messes. Phee's Mess ($11.99) is a winner, too, with a good amount of veal and meatballs mixed into the sauce and pasta. It's reminiscent of veal parmesan with a side of pasta and some meatballs thrown in. Swingin' Sammy Williams's Mess ($10.99) is similar, but it substitutes chicken for the veal. The vegetarians should stick to Grandma's Mess ($6.99), whose "mix-ins" include include mushrooms, peppers, and onions.
At the "ultimate" end of things is Uncle Butch's Bomb Mess, which includes shells, lasagna, eggplant, chicken, veal, shrimp, meatball, sausage, and vegetables. This one doesn't come in the individual serving size; there's not enough room on the plate. But you can get a "half-bucket," which serves three to four very hungry people for $49.99 and a bucket, which feeds six to eight, for $99.99. Each mess comes in those sizes for takeout.The place isn't fancy, but it's attractive, with exposed-brick walls and a pressed-tin ceiling. The TV is always turned to sports.
The only thing missing is a glass of Chianti, and the brothers are working on that: They've applied for a beer-and-wine license.
Their grandparents came from Italy, and many of the recipes are theirs. Indeed, all of the black-and-white photos on the walls are of that generation - the grandparents and great-aunts and uncles in the old country.
Messes take up most of the menu, but there are plenty of other dishes worth trying, including the dozen different raviolis. Try the goat cheese ($10.99) with its creamy, dreamy filling and a marinara sauce. We asked for the alfredo sauce with the sweet potato ravioli ($11.99), and the sauce was light and bland enough to let the delicious filling take centerstage. The kid in the family went crazy for the meatball sub; there's a list of sandwiches.
Whatever you order, you're likely to take home enough for another meal. There's also a freezer full of pastas and sauces, ranging from $6 to $16. And about those "buckets" of mess, they're really trays. Don't worry, they're not going to send you out the door looking like you're headed for the beach.
But before you head out, try the tiramisu or the almond cream cake ($4), which, despite a layer of custard, both taste light and airy.