The difference between fresh and dried pasta is like night and day. If you want the best Italian food, you need to have pasta that was made as a moment ago. The owners of Paul's Pasta Shop in Groton have made that their mantra since 1988, and it's paid off with a host of constant fans. Not to mention, the restaurant has won numerous Readers' Choice Awards in Connecticut Magazine, including Best Italian, Best Vegetarian and Best Value.
Regulars rave about the wide variety of Italian specialties on the list, including pappardelle carbonara, lobster ravioli, manicotti and antipasto salad. One thing I liked very much about this restaurant is that they let you choose from two entree sizes, small or large; for the price, you can't get a better deal in town.
THE VIBE: When you walk into Paul's, the first thing you see is a pasta machine. This is not a decorative antique collecting dust. There was a man standing over the machine feeding it sheets of fresh pasta. There is a deli at the front where you can buy sandwiches, handmade pasta by the pound and a variety of sauces. It was a warm summer afternoon, so I decided to sit on the back deck alongside the Thames River, enjoying the charming landscape of Southeastern Connecticut. The atmosphere inside is cozy and bustling and the tables are covered with green checkered tablecloths. The servers are energetic, friendly and helpful.
THE FOOD: Delizioso! I started with a garden salad with gorgonzola cheese crumbles and vinaigrette dressing. The salad was just the right size and crisp with fresh vegetables. My friend ordered a small portion of elbow pasta tossed with tuna, artichokes and dill mayo, one of the shop's daily chilled pastas. For our entrees, I ordered the penne pasta with a pesto sauce, and my friend ordered the fettucini alfredo with chicken. Also, out of sheer curiosity and extra, we ordered the buffalo mac 'n cheese to split. The food was hot, the pasta was cooked perfectly and the sauces were creamy and delicious. You also get a basket of warm garlic bread with all of the pasta entrees. If you still have room for dessert, make sure to try Paul's signature fried cookie dough with ice cream. They also have a selection of cakes.
THE BILL: Paul's Pasta shop is very affordable. Sandwiches cost between $6 and $9. Lunch and dinner specials line the specials board, and most entrees cost between $7 and $12. My small salad was $4. You usually end up bringing some food home since they give you so much. A reasonably priced selection of wine and beer is also available.
THE PARTICULARS: Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays. Reservations not accepted.
THE VERDICT: If you are in the mood for pasta, you really cannot beat this place. The pasta is simple, always fresh and cooked al dente. They have a mix of dishes with and without meat, which makes them a great vegetarian option.