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Globe Northwest Dining Out

It's a mess, but a tasty one

Matt Comella, co-owner of Comella's restaurants, and Siobhan Fitzgerald, manager of its Concord location. Matt Comella, co-owner of Comella's restaurants, and Siobhan Fitzgerald, manager of its Concord location.
November 2, 2008
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Comella's
12 Walden St., Concord
978-369-9555
www.comellarestaurants.com
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
No reservations
MasterCard, Visa, or cash, no checks
Accessible to the handicapped

If you've got a pack of hungry teenagers who love tomato sauce on pasta, take them to Comella's. You all can be happy: they can watch a big-screen TV, while you hum along with Frank Sinatra belting out "New York, New York" and enjoy a glass of wine or a beer.

Their signature dish is the "mess," a mystery concoction that began as a use for leftover pasta and sauce at their first restaurant, which opened in Wellesley in 1988.

"It's all mixed up . . . like an Italian goulash," said Matt Comella, co-owner with his brother J.P. Now the main attraction at all four of their locations, the dish includes pasta, cheese, sauce, a little eggplant parmigiana, and pasta shells stuffed with ricotta cheese. Variations include meats, shrimp, and vegetables, as well as six different sauces. The marinara sauce is standard, while others are $1.50 extra. You can buy a mess as an entree ($7-$16), or in half ($21-$50) or full ($28-$100) buckets, which are not pails but rectangular aluminum pans that serve up to eight.

Open since July, Comella's is tucked away in an alley between Main and Hubbard streets, in the renovated space previously occupied by the Back Alley Café.

Whatever you order, either to eat in or for takeout, you'll get mounds of food.

The traditional caprese salad ($6) is a welcome twist on the standard; this version was on a bed of emerald-green romaine lettuce and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of just olive oil. It was a refreshing large starter for two; we still had enough to share among four people.

The plentiful shrimp-and-crab ravioli slathered in alfredo sauce ($16 entree; $1.50 sauce), made with butter, cream, ricotta cheese, and spices, were filling. But the seafood in these handmade nuggets seemed overwhelmed by the sauce.

Fettuccini with gently spicy, sun-dried tomato sauce ($6 entree; $1.50 sauce) was the favorite of the table. "It's beyond ordinary; it's really tasty, it's really good," said one dining companion. The olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, and walnuts are simmered together and mixed with marinara sauce.

Both the eggplant parmigiana with mess ($9) and JoJo's messy mess ($13) with veal and vegetables were smothered in marinara sauce, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other. JoJo's included lots of green and red peppers, mushrooms, onions, tube pasta, and breaded veal, topped with mozzarella and fresh Romano cheese. Neither the veal nor eggplant added much flavor to our meals.

I bet ravenous teenagers love the warm garlic bread ($2.50, half loaf) that had a generous, rich garlic-and-butter flavor on a loaf similar to Wonder Bread, which is especially good for sopping up the piles of sauce.

In addition to the mess, Comella's offers pastas, salads, sandwiches, and entrees ranging from lasagna to meatloaf to shrimp. With 15 minutes' notice, customers can pick up heaps of food for a family meal or an impromptu party. On another visit, the delicious hot breaded chicken parmigiana sandwich ($6), layered with mozzarella and romano cheese and marinara sauce on a sub roll, was perfectly cooked and satisfying.

Tiramisu ($4), though not made on the premises, is a light and delicious dessert, just the right note on which to end.

ELISABETH TOWNSEND

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