The Spaghetti Factory in Sylvan Beach is a restaurant that goes way back for me–probably 22 years in fact. I’ve been to this seasonal Oneida Italian restaurant so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. In 35 years of being open it remains unchanged to this day. It’s something rare to see because a lack of change usually doesn’t result in success–but in the case it did. How does a restaurant survive without adapting–or better yet–establish a position that requires no change to survive? Let’s find out.
Just before you cross the bridge into Sylvan Beach, where the somewhat rundown waterfront amusement park sits, you’ll notice a small restaurant on your right. The building is unassuming with dark brown wood siding and white, double-hung windows but it’s hard to overlook the always-full parking lots. The classic and kitsch interior remains as untouched as the menu. There’s just something about The Spaghetti Factory that keeps us coming back with some willing to travel many miles just for a visit. It’s one of those places that you go to once a year and on a personal note–a place I’ve grown up with and will always love (call me biased).
For 35 years the Gwilts–John and Barbara–have owned and operated The Spaghetti Factory and they live up to the stereotype of the restaurant business–at least one of them is ALWAYS there. Whether greeting customers with a smile, handing out post-dinner lollipops (maybe a t-shirt) to the kids or even busing dishes (if necessary), the Gwilts embody what real deal restauranteurs should be and represent some of the finest, hardest working folks in the CNY restaurant biz. While this is a major secret to their success, the food is what matters here. The Spaghetti Factory covers all the Italian-American food you’d expect–from chicken parm and stuffed hot peppers, to Utica Greens and manicotti. You can also get larger dinner items like steak and pizza or just customize your own pasta picking from a list of ingredients. I’m a fan of the basic, cheap, a la carte pasta dishes, which for $4.50 more, turn into multi-course dinners. If you want to go big The Spaghetti Factory can handle it. The complete dinner includes a side salad-sized antipasto, a cup of soup or juice and a side of pasta (not with pasta entrees) or steak fries. Add that to the endless bread and you’ll leave with a pound of leftovers.
As usual, I forgot how much food the “complete dinner” actually includes and ordered way too much. I started with a Vodka Collins, a go-to which just seems right in the time-warped Spaghetti Factory. Despite being very small as far as cocktails go, there is a certain charm and at $4.95–are among the cheapest drinks you can find. The Spaghetti Factory’s basic formula emerges as soon as the bread comes. Two loaves of hot Italian bread pre-loaded with garlic and butter; something they’ve always served. The aroma and perfect taste ignites nostalgia like no other. It’s impossible to avoid eating every last scrap but don’t worry, there’s plenty more on the way.
Enough of the back story, here’s what I ordered. A Vodka Collins (2) and the manicotti complete dinner. The a la carte manicotti is $10.99, with the complete dinner just under $15. However you look at it, $15 is a deal–especially when the average Syracuse restaurant easily costs $35-40 a person. It’s a welcomed respite from reality. My Vodka Collins arrived quickly and was refreshing, which caused me to order another. Next came the bread, which I’ve already described above–so good. The antipasto came next topped with all the basics–pepperoni, salami, ham, provolone–and a side of delicious Parmesan peppercorn dressing. It’s very much in the style of Aunt Josie’s, the now-closed Syracuse Little Italy favorite. The antipasto was very fresh and delightful in it’s simplicity. The dressing was great as well. Soon after all our salad plates were empty, a round of Italian wedding soup arrived. If I’ve ever had a truly homemade soup in a restaurant, this was it. One spoonful revealed tiny homemade meatballs, orzo, tomato and fresh-off-the-bone chicken. You just don’t find soup like this anywhere, besides maybe when visiting grandma. I could imagine it curing the worst of colds. Again, it was all about simplicity, quality and freshness of ingredients–are you sensing a theme?
After polishing off the soup and another few loafs of bread, an array of large pasta dishes arrived, with sizzling hot plates and a deep red tomato sauce. The manicotti comes with two of the classic cheese-filled Italian dinner crepes and despite appearing small is actually quite challenging to finish. They were done the correct way, with a crepe-style noodle instead of the inauthentic pasta version. The platter was topped with a very fine-textured tomato sauce with crispy edges made up of broiled cheese and sauce (the best part). The fork-soft manicotti was steaming hot but I dared to take a bite. There’s a perfect mix of ricotta and mozzarella, which holds the manicotti together and makes it substantial. The soft shell combined with the creamy flavor of ricotta and the subtle mozzarella is addictive–especially topped with homemade sauce. The tomato sauce at Spaghetti Factory has a depth of flavor, which reminds me of Sunday sauce. It has a tartness but also a deep richness and slightly bitter but balanced flavor. They actually sell the homemade canned sauce for around $7. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. After all the bread, salad and soup that 15 bucks got me, I had to bring half the manicotti home.
The final detail that I love about The Spaghetti Factory is the old school dessert tray. There are only a handful of places that still keep up the tradition, but it’s one of my favorites. And until you see the Factory’s tray, you haven’t seen it done well. The waitress brought the tray over and it had 10-12 completely homemade desserts, including cannoli, an Oreo cake, cheesecake, carrot cake and more. It’s a nice little touch that goes against the restaurant industry’s survival-of-the-fittest philosophy. It’s a testament to the fact that sometimes the traditional but often more challenging approach is worth holding onto.
When you consider the whole package you can’t help but notice a few things. First, there’s the excellent service, followed by simplicity, freshness and quality of food and finally–the price. No matter how you look at it, The Spaghetti Factory is an absolute bargain. And just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean the food quality suffers. In fact, it’s some of my favorite classic, Italian-American food anywhere. With so many restaurants charging upwards of $18-20 for pasta, it’s nice to visit The Spaghetti Factory for a dose of sanity.
The Spaghetti Factory in Verona Beach: A Guru Review
Route 13, Verona Beach (Directions)
Tuesday – Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
*Closed during the winter months.
All Guru Reviews reflect my OPINION based on a real experience at various Syracuse restaurants.
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