You Say “To-may-to”, I Say “To-mah-to” – Minard’s Spaghetti Inn

minards outside

Susan says…

After a failed attempt to dine at Minard’s Spaghetti Inn on Easter Sunday (they were closed), I thought it might be nice to treat my Dad to dinner there for Father’s Day.  We made a real event of it by also inviting Ron’s Dad and Stepmom, who live in nearby Grafton.  In fact, this was the first time our fathers had even met. 

I have adopted a strict policy concerning Italian food and the northern part of the state:

If you make it to Route 50 or points north, you MUST eat Italian.

 

And I don’t mean the fake Olive Garden stuff, not that there is one, and not that there’s anything wrong with Olive Garden – I like the Chicken con Broccoli and tiramisu as well as the next fella.  But Clarksburg/Fairmont/Morgantown are home to some fantastic Italian joints.  I immediately think of Julio’s and Oliverio’s, to name just a couple.  I was excited to try Minard’s for the first time and see how it stacks up.

Well, you really can’t compare them to each other.  Everyone has their own idea of what the quintessential red sauce should be and every restaurant does it a little differently.  I am pretty easy to please when it comes to pasta, cheese, sauce, and garlic bread so I usually like it no matter what the specific style.

I’ll start my analysis with the atmosphere.  Linen tablecloths and napkins adorn the tables and several smallish rooms divide the building into intimate dining areas.  We were enjoying some lively conversation that I was afraid was disturbing to the other parties in our “room”, but we didn’t get shushed by the professional and prompt waitstaff.

The menu consists of mostly the old standbys involving red sauce.  I am a real sucker for cream sauce, but I only noted a couple dishes with alfredo and a couple veal dishes without the red stuff.  Since it seemed like red sauce was their “thing”, I chose one of those entrees: manicotti.  Prices range from $10-$18 and include bread and salad. 

My Mom and Dad opted for an alternative to salad and they even accomodated my Mom’s request for cottage cheese with a dab of applesauce in the center.  Nicely played, Minard’s! 

minards manicotti

The salad consisted of a generous portion of crisp, fresh iceberg lettuce and some chopped tomatoes.  Yep, that’s it.  It kinda bugs me when they can’t throw in a few other veggies and a couple croutons.  But even so, the lettuce was so fresh and the Italian dressing was so good, I was satisfied with the salad course.

I did not taste the bread that came with the entrees because I upgraded to garlic toast.  If I am going to waste carbs and calories on bread, I prefer that bread to be as garlicky as possible.  It wasn’t near as buttery as Fazio’s, and not as garlicky, but it was crunchy and delicious all the same.  (I think you can squeeze Fazio’s garlic toast and a stream of butter will drip off.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.)

Ron and I ordered a half liter of Chianti to wash down the pasta, which was nicely priced at $9.  They brought the teeniest wine glasses ever – almost as small as an after-dinner liquor glass.  It made it seem like there was more wine than there actually was in the carafe because we refilled those cute little glasses a lot.  Like almost every wine I’ve tasted – I liked it.

I enjoyed the manicotti.  The portion was just right and the price ($11.50) reasonable.  The ricotta and herb filling was creamy and yummy.  The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente.  And although the sauce was good, I could not discern any specific flavors from it other than tomatoes and sugar.  Not a complex sauce, but full of finely ground beef.  I really wanted to taste Dad’s meatball, but he didn’t offer.  Darn it.

minards tiramisu

The disappointment in this meal, for me, came with the dessert course.  Since everyone at the table ordered dessert (except Ron), I followed suit.  And I regretted it after one bite.  I can describe the tiramisu in a single word: WET.  It just tasted wet.  No coffee flavor, no chocolate flavor, no mascarpone flavor in the zabaglione, nothing.  I should have put my fork down after one bite.  But I didn’t.  Like an idiot, I just kept eating the wet, cold dessert.  I asked if they make the desserts on site and our waiter told me “no”, they come from a local bakery called Almost Heaven.  Sorry dudes, but you need to work on that tiramisu recipe.  A dusting of cocoa instead of chocolate shavings would be a good start. 

Dad, perhaps feeling a little guilty about how selfish he was with his two meatballs, offered me a bite of his chocolate cake since I was staring at it – it was delicious and rich.  So the chocolate layer cake is indeed almost heaven but the tiramisu…not so much.  Ironically, I called Almost Heaven Bakery to validate the waiter’s claim and was told they provide only the tiramisu – they don’t know where the chocolate cake comes from.  Minard’s was reluctant to tell me who makes the chocolate cake, only that it comes from a “distributor”.  Hmmm….is that code for “mass-produced, frozen and shipped”?  I think the Olive Garden’s tiramisu comes in frozen (as I have been served a piece with a frozen center before), but I still love it!

Give Minard’s a try when in the Clarksburg area, but only after you’ve been to Julio’s and Oliverio’s – both of which receive a higher rating from me.  Minard’s – THREE FORKS.

Ron says…

minards sampler

Italian ~  does anyone do it better than your mom?  I’m serious, my mom’s Samoan, and her spaghetti sauce is the best. 

What Susan said about north of US 50 somewhat holds true for me.  Not that I have to eat pasta but there is a noticeable increase in Italian fare to choose from.  Additionally like Susan, there are more places like Fazio’s or Rocco’s, I guess you could call them “home grown”.   Pick your own term, but there’s simply more of them up here to choose from.

So stopping at Minard’s sounds pretty good, I had heard good things about it and I enjoy Italian as much as the next person just not the next person’s mom’s Italian as much as my mom’s Italian (~ I think I could’ve got one more apostrophe in there).  

Seeing the signs about how long Minard’s has been in business, and upon entering seeing the linen table cloths and all, I was expecting a real treat. 

Let’s back up here a second.  Those true fans of my musings, understand what I mean when I say a real treat.  Those of you that are new readers to the best food blog in the Kanawha area have to understand that I don’t really know what the hell I’m talking about.  If it’s good, that means I like it.  If it sucks, then I don’t like it.  My reviews will not be about “a taste of this” or “a hint of that” and my journalistic credibility has been established a long time ago.  In that I have none.

So by a real treat I mean I wanted something that I felt was home cooked, not a glorified lean cuisine – you know pull the plastic off the tray and zap it in the microwave the Olive Garden.   Well, never a judge a book by the cover.

Looking over the menu, I saw a few different things that I thought I may enjoy, but mostly I saw several entrees that looked like they were created for the masses.  By that I mean that our kids would eat them also.  There was nothing on here that Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone would want, not even a cannoli if my memory serves me correctly.  {because my mom is Samoan, the only thing I know about Italians are what I learn from mafia movies}  So where was I?

Today I was in the mood for some spaghetti and/or lasagna typical Applachian Italian.  The kind mom used to make.   So I ordered the Tour of Italy or Taste of Italy – to be honest I don’t really remember what it was called, but it was Minard’s comparative entree to Olive Garden’s ~ you know if you can’t make up your mind, try a little of everything.  I think it was even named similarly.  I could be wrong.

Well we ordered and the guy brought out some bread…… how original…. Should I mention that I like my bread warm?  I like my butter to spread easily?  If I recall I think Fazoli’s even offers warm breadsticks.  Come on… give me warm bread and cheap soda.

I didn’t like the bread, not that there was anything wrong with it, I just felt they brought bread out because they felt that’s what restaurants are supposed to do.   It was ok, but did not blow my skirt. 

Then came the salad – first rule of salads should be that you must be able to eat it.  Yes I could eat this iceberg salad, but it was difficult, and my step mom was having the same trouble as I.  Stab a piece of lettuce here, salad pops out the other side of the bowl.   Stab the other side and the salad slides up and out of the opposite side.  WTF!!!  The bowls I think were made for sundaes, and if they were not made for ice cream then that’s what they should be for.   I think everyone at the table that got salad, had some end up outside the bowl.  But their dressing was pretty good, I got the house.

Not long after came the entree.   I had spaghetti, lasagna, and …. well??? …hmmmm..  Something else..  I don’t remember what the heck it was other than it had italian sausage in it.     (journalistic credibility at its best)  

To be honest my meal tasted pretty good.   I cannot complain about the meal, it was plenty to eat, and was not priced outrageously.   $12.95 I think.  The sauces were on the sweet side which is how I  like mine. 

The problem…

… and here is where I’ll invoke the wrath of all the Minard’s fanboys…

Not only is my Samoan mom’s better tasting, well Stouffer’s is just as good as the food I tasted.

The Lasagna tasted to me exactly like Stouffer’s lasagna - and believe me I’ve eaten a great deal of Stouffer’s Lasagna – until I realized just how easy it was to make lasagna.  The spaghetti was good but not exceptional, well of course I’m talking about the sauce, maybe Newman’s Own, but it was good and I’m sure our kids would like it.

Even though my review doesn’t sound like it, up until this point I was going to give Minard’s Four Forks.  After all, I would eat here again, it tasted good, and it wasn’t too expensive.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the farm ordering desserts… Our server was asked if the desserts were made on site.  IMO, if they are made offsite, then they are not homemade.  These were made offsite.  (yes if I went to the Keebler Tollhouse and asked if they were made onsite, I would call them homemade)  Once hearing this, my world came crashing down, and the illusiion of homemade became apparent. 

Suddenly I started thinking, was this bowl a Sundae bowl doubling as a Salad Bowl?  Was my bread also baked offsite, hence it cooled down during delivery?  Was my lasagna indeed Stouffer’s?  Is there a case of Newman’s Own sitting on the shelf in the back?

All of those unanswered questions have caused my review to take the tone it has.   I do not know, but in Samoa, they have a saying if it chimps like a monkey, and if it climbs like a monkey – well it must be a monkey.

I liked Minard’s but I expected more and therein lies the crime.   Expectation.   It’s best to go through life without them and save yourself the disappointment.

Yes I would eat here again, I doubt I would personally decide to go here, but if I was with friends or coworkers I would definitely not object to going here.  This is not the Italian I would expect North of US 50, more like something I would find South of the Kanawha River.  I guess it was true Appalachian Italian.

Minard’s is good, but it was too similiar to the Olive Garden for me to give it that extra Fork.  The service was good, the place was clean, and the atmosphere was nice… it’s just that little something was missing.

THREE FORKS.

Note:  for the record my mom was not from Samoa, I simply needed something ridiculous to make the comparison for “mom’s Italian”.  Also, I’m not sure Samoa is actually a country, I think it’s an ethnic group of people from Hawaii – I’m just too lazy to wiki it.  I just know of it because of my years of watching wrestling and the tag team of the Great Samoans.    If Samoa is a country, I’m not sure there are even monkeys there.  Not to mention I’m not sure if monkeys even chimp.  If you do not like this reference, feel free to insert your own tropical animal and the sound it makes.  Heck for that matter feel free to insert a tropical location from which my mom could be from.  Just be consistent and the story should read the same.
Minard’s Spaghetti Inn
813 East Pike Street
Clarksburg, WV
304-623-1711

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14 responses to “You Say “To-may-to”, I Say “To-mah-to” – Minard’s Spaghetti Inn

  1. I’m local to Minard’s and I feel exactly the same way. Spaghetti like I make myself, only with a tablecloth and a waiter, and I don’t have to do dishes. 3 forks is a fair appraisal. Go to Oliverio’s for a 4-fork meal and wonderful cocktails if you want to get something fancier.

  2. It must have gone way downhill. When I was a kid growing up there, theirs was the best, bar none. Minard’s had it all over Oliverio’s, Muriale’s, and even Marino’s (now gone but not forgotten). Even Mama Leone’s in NYC paled in comparison to Minard’s.

    Shoot. There goes my childhood.

  3. Samoa and American Somoa (a U.S. territory) are halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Kinda like Guam only without all the non-native snakes.

    As for Minard’s, I dig it. And on a pure restaurant scale would say three out of five is about right. I bump Minard’s to four easily for nostalgia. Mom used to eat there in the 1960s when she was the County Extenstion agent. I used to get taken there every once in a while if she and I were driving by Clarksburg. Good memories of nothing but spaghetti and classic American-Italian red sauce. And since at that age, classic American-Italian red sauce was the only acceptable topping for noodles of any kind (except elbow macaroni in a blue box) Mom and I were both happy there.

  4. We ate there about a month ago on the way back from Pittsburgh. After traveling for a while, this was exactly what I wanted. I had only eaten at Minard’s once before back in the late 1980′s and I remember I liked it then. This time, I liked it again. I think I got rigatoni with meatballs. It was good, but I think Leonoro’s meatballs are better. I did love the salad dressing, which was a oil/vinegar mixture. It was too vinegary for my husband. But I love vinegar so it was perfect. He ordered some type of pasta with a meat sauce that was made of ground sausage rather than ground beef. He loved it. I thought it wasn’t too bad. I’d go back with no hesitation.

  5. SagaciousHillbilly

    Yea, Minards aint tops on my list of Marion Co. eateries. I’ll hit Muriels, Three Ways or Oliverio’s first. I’ve always had expectations (some folks up there think it’s the best) and then been a little bit disappointed with Minards.

  6. Next time try Phillip’s in the Glen Elk section of Clarksburg; down the street from Julio’s. It is cheaper than Minards and the food is better.
    Never order a steak hoagie from Minards. They put one very thin slice of meat on the large Italian bun and you’ll be charged $7. I asked them where the meat was on my order and was pretty much told that was it. I sent it back.
    Much of their food is now commercially processed.

  7. Hippie Killer

    I think the deal with Italian American food (especially the kind pictured here) is that it’s very much country cooking. (With some influences from another country.) So it often has a lot of the same problems country cooking has, like mushy and / or under-seasoned food, and questionable technique.

    And have you ever noticed how when some people talk about red sauce, they’ll mention that it’s been simmered for hours and hours? I don’t get how that’s a good thing. Once you reach a certain consistency, you’re literally simmering away all of the flavor.

  8. Wow. You must understand that Mindard’s reflects the legacy of the style of cooking and food of its founders and its origins from southern Italy. Also, Italian in northern West Virginia is different than Italian in southern West Virginia. Sounds odd, but true.

    That being the case, the reason the bread is served the way it is–is because that is how it was done 50 or more years ago when the restaurant was started by the family. That is what residents of Harrison County expect and that is what they get. I was surprised when they added garlic bread–but it’s pretty good. Now, you may not like your bread “cold”, but that is how they do it. Each to his own. My point is there’s a reason–they’re not lazy or indifferent.

    Red sauce discussions to Italian-Americans from northern West Virginia are very personal. It’s all about the red sauce. Minard’s is good–but again it’s not everyone’ s favorite and it never will be. Muriale’s is different, Phillip’s is different, Oliverio’s is different, etc. It is a matter of preference.

    I thought the reviews were pretty good and for the most part fair. For those of you who always are concerned about how much something costs–Minard’s is a bargain. Good quality at a good price. The place will be clean and the wait staff friendly.

    But the fun about reviewing Italian restaurants in northern West Virginia is there always will be differences of opinion as to the best. My advice–try them all. Excellent food for the most part.

    And, oh, by the way–Minard’s is in Harrison County.

    And yes, you must cook the red sauce all day. That’s how my Mom did it–and it was the best red sauce I’ve ever had. Miss it very much.

  9. SagaciousHillbilly

    Lovetoeatout. . . excellent post!
    You are correct on all counts.

  10. Lovetoeatout -

    I agree with your points about the red sauce – that’s why I said you really can’t compare them. They seem to each have their own unique style.

    I also totally agree with your suggestion to TRY THEM ALL!

  11. I agree red sauce, and much of northern West Virginia Italian-American cooking is peasant food. No doubt. The majority of the immigrants who came over in the early 1900′s were from the very poor Calabrian province in southern Italy and they brought their red sauce, and other foods that were, well, peasant foods. Call it “country cooking”, if you will.

    Northern West Virginia Italian is somewhat unique and I strongly urge everyone to give it a go. Wonderful, reasonably priced food.

    And get some fresh-out-of-the-oven Tomaro’s bread, in the Glen Elk section of Clarksburg, or pepperoni rolls. Hot Italian bread just out of the oven is heavenly.

    I’m hungry…..

  12. You know what’s interesting? Andrew Zimmern is in Samoa right now (at least in TV time, that is) enjoying some native food.

    I haven’t seen any red sauce yet.

    Maybe Ron should be watching this program.

  13. I know there is a difference in the red sauce but do you realize the Muriale’s, Oliverio’s, and Minard’s all are related. There recipe’s are almost identical but they all originated from Minard’s.

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