I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty well-known for my love of Italian food, yeah? One of the things I miss about the Northeast is the incredible variety of delicious Italian. It could just be that we don’t go out to eat as often as we did back in the day, but there aren’t as many Italian restaurants in Seattle that are really noteworthy. (That’s not to say that there’s NONE – I do love Volterra, La Rustica, Cafe Juanita, and Pomodoro.) However, we recently discovered a new favorite this past Summer that I cannot get enough of.
Sometime over Summer, we had decided to go to Cafe Flora for brunch, as we often have done. Cafe Flora is a well-known vegetarian breakfast & lunch spot in the Madison neighborhood that is delicious, but expensive and almost always crowded. Sometimes we get lucky and arrive when there’s no wait. Most times we have to wait 10-20 minutes, which isn’t horrible. But this one particular day, there was a 45 minute wait, and I wasn’t having it. I was HUNGRY, so we started wandering down the street, debating whether to keep waiting or hit up one of the other great restaurants along the way. As we walked down Madison Street, preparing to cross the street to go to Luc, we had a record-scratch moment as I spotted a small sandwich board sign on the sidewalk that said, simply “Italian food” with an arrow pointing left.
Husband spotted it right as I did, and he immediately veered left. He knows me well!
And that is how we first discovered Aglio e Olio, a small, no-frills Italian joint tucked away in the tiniest plaza-like area, next to a dry cleaner, and an Asian Bistro. We would have missed it completely (which, in fact, we did do for the past few years) if not for that sign they put out that day.
We were greeted by Rob, one of the owners and chefs, the second we walked in that first time, and I was instantly enamored with this place. As I think anyone who has been to Aglio e Olio knows, you can’t talk about it without mentioning Rob. He is loud, bold, funny, and clearly passionate about what he does. He exudes the kind of warmth that makes you feel like you’re old friends, whether it’s your first time there, or you’ve been going for years. There are exactly four people that work there, and everyone we have encountered has been absolutely wonderful. But it has to be said – Rob was off two of the times we’ve been, and it’s just not the same without him. He is a major component of what makes this place so fucking amazing.
So. The place itself is, as I said, no frills. It’s a small, family-style spot where you can expect to chat with people around you. The food is not the fussy, elegant style of Italian food that you might find in other parts of the city. It’s hearty, comforting, fill-you-the-fuck-up basics done well. We’ve found that people in Seattle have little concept of how much good food really costs, and they are constantly complaining about prices… but you really can’t complain here. Husband and I were shocked at how little our meals cost, even when it’s myself, Husband, and the Kid. (No kidding, it costs less for all three of us to eat there than a typical night out for just Husband and I – and that’s WITH appetizers and drinks.)
I love going around lunchtime and getting the “pasta bowl”, which is their pasta of the day (or another pasta of your choosing), small caesar salad, garlic knot, and, for me, the giant meatballs. (GIANT. Two of them.) I am very partial to pasta with some type of red sauce, and meatballs (which always go home with me), but I have also gotten pasta with pesto, and the carbonara. Occasionally, at other places, I’ll get fish or shrimp or chicken, but at Aglio e Olio, I only do pasta. Pasta, pasta, pasta, because pasta is the greatest food on earth, as far as I’m concerned. Kid always gets pizza, and husband is all over the map – pasta, steak, Italian-style sandwich… he’s never had a thing he hasn’t liked.
Wine and beer selections are limited, but solid. (I love my Prosecco!) We often get the caprese salad to start, and we always get the polenta fries. Holy hell, these things are delicious. I mean, the fries themselves are good but the sauce is mind-blowing. (Know what it is? Melted gorgonzola and cream. That’s it. Ridiculously simple but man, polenta fries with Gorgonzola is perfection. I am as big a fan of anything with cheese as I am of Italian food.)
It really is a great time every time we go to Aglio e Olio. Normally, when we go out, I want to be left the hell alone, ya know? But here, we just love when Rob hangs out to talk or when we strike up conversations with other patrons. (Often those conversations revolve around how good the food is and what a great find it is.) It’s cozy and inviting and, best of all, it’s the kind of place we really love to support. The owners had previously worked at a well-known Italian spot in Pioneer Square. They keep their overhead low with just the four people cooking (and owning), they don’t spend much on advertising or signs… the well-deserved praise and word of mouth has made them pretty popular on a Friday night!