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Paulie's - Counter-Service Italian in Montrose with Handmade Pastas and Huge Portions

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Family dinner last night at Paulie's.  A few things to know going in: It's counter-service, which is a surprising choice (to me) for a restaurant like this, but seems to be a fairly popular model in Houston.  It is small and tables are first-come first-served.  Portion sizes are mind-bogglingly big, and a half-portion of pasta will be enough for 2 meals.

The panzanella salad in no way resembled any panzanella I have encountered before, and was essentially a spinach salad with a few croutons in it.  Not bad, but not what we expected.  Again, the portion size was crazy, and I would suggest a half portion to share between 2 or 3.  The Caesar salad my in-laws got was the better choice, and perplexingly had a higher crouton to roughage ratio than the panzanella.

The kids happily devoured spaghetti and meatballs.  A couple small bites I had were good...a smooth, fairly sweet sauce with light and well-seasoned meatballs.  At $8 for a "small" that 2 kids only finished half of, this is a ridiculous value.  Cristina's creste di gallo was served with that same tomato sauce, kicked up with some red pepper, pickled onions and half moons of sweet Italian sausage.  The sausage itself is nothing special, a finely ground and tightly packed version with a good dose of fennel and caraway (but not too much).  My mother-in-law had the skirt steak served with a side of pesto gnocchi.  The steak itself was described (by my MIL) as "a bit chewy, but hey, it's skirt steak," and the gnocchi I tasted were good - medium density and coated in a solid standard basil pesto.  

I think I won the night with my bucatini Amatriciana, which was smoky, and spicy, with a good amount of sweetness from the tomatoes.  This is the must-order dish as far as I can tell.

With prices that are $11 or less for "small" portions of pasta that are really enough for 2 people, the value at Paulie's can't be denied.  The pastas are reportedly made in house, and were all decent, though I prefer a bit more al dente texture.  Reasonable people may disagree though, as my wife thinks my "al dente" is too chewy.  

There are a number of well-priced beers by the bottle (local bottles priced at $5), and Italian wines by the glass ($10-15) and bottle (all in the $40 range).

Paulie's is a neighborhood gem that I would compare favorably to Frank or Supper in NYC.  Dinner isn't going to blow your mind, but it is solid, and perfect for a family-style night out.

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