YBOR CITY — Consider this: the building that houses the Spaghetti Warehouse in Ybor City used to be a cigar making factory — and every first Monday of the month, this very good Italian restaurant hosts an Elvis Fun gathering.
Stogies, spaghetti, and Elvis … I suspect there’s a really good punch line in there somewhere, but at the moment it sadly escapes me.
No matter. In a state where history sometimes feels like anything built a year or two before the last colossal, high end subdivision opened its doors, one of the things I like most about Tampa’s great Latin Quarter is the red brick buildings that housed the cigar factories that put Ybor City on the map.
If Ybor City’s New Orlean’s-style 7th Avenue is better known today for its party-hearty night life, the truth is it also has more preserved history than so many other overdeveloped sections of Central Florida. Martinez Ybor opened his first cigar factory here in 1868, and that building still stands today, like so many other historic red brick structures along Ybor City’s La Setima (7th Avenue).
Just a few blocks away is The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant, located at 1911 N. 13th St., at the corner of 9th Avenue. Still a part of the historic section of Ybor City, it takes up part of a factory that continued hiring workers to roll fresh Cuban cigars straight into the 1980s. Spaghetti Warehouse is the kind of place that works hard at creating a spirit of fun and enjoyment, by celebrating things like Meatball Madness day (when $4.99 Spaghetti & Meatballs meals get served all day.)
It’s also the kind of place that, as previously noted, hosts Elivs Fun Gatherings every first Monday of the month from 6-9 p.m. — better known as Jeremy Ewbank, a 42-year-old Tampa resident who owns a carpet cleaning business and does Elvis impersonations for fun and to entertain the spaghetti eaters. The Spaghetti Warehouse is nothing if not about the sheer pleasure of getting outdoors with friends and family for a relaxing meal. The decor helps set that mood. It’s a spacious restaurant, with three separate dining rooms, each one surrounded by those magnificent and all-too-rarely-seen (in Florida, anywhere, if not Pittsburgh) red brick walls. There are giant billboards decorating the walls, obviously collected from decades past — “Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey, World’s Biggest Menagerie” reads one, with a painting of a rhino racing across it.
But the best is the trolley car located inside one of the dining rooms, with a flashing green traffic light hovering just above the front end — as if giving that trolley car the signal to start its engine. Happily for the diners who get to sit at the tables inside the trolley car, it never does. But considering that Ybor City still has a trolley system that takes visitors around town, it’s a fitting tribute to both the city’s history and Spaghetti Warehouse’s penchant for making it all a playful experience.
And then there is … l’alimento. Eccellente, i miei amici! Consider these choices (and ponder the dilemma I faced narrowing it down to one): You can be very traditional, and try the spaghetti and meatballs plate, which offers pasta topped with homemade tomato sauce and two hand-rolled meatballs.
A bit more adventurous, you could have the Incredible 15-Layer Lasagne — noodles baked with layers of meat sauce and a blend of cheeses, herbs, and spices.
The Fettuccini Alfredo, which I ordered and found to be an absolutely delicious gourmet meal, won me over, though I did still have the temptation of trying the Four Cheese Manicotti (two pasta tubes filled with a blend of cheeses, and topped with tomato and alfredo sauce), or the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.
Your waitress starts you off by bringing to your table a large bowl filled with house salad in Italian dressing for everyone in the party to share, along with sourdough bread served hot and fresh from the oven. The main dishes arrive quickly — the service is prompt and friendly.
That, the quality of the food and the appeal of dining in one of those historic brick buildings all sold me rather quickly on Spaghetti Warehouse’s appeal. And as I was leaving the restaurant and walking back to my hotel, the feeling of satisfaction after a good meal slowly morphed into a question that began to haunt me.
From hand-rolled cigars in the “Cigar Capital of the World” to meatballs in a trolley car — I know I’m missing a good one-liner here somewhere. I spent hours trying to think of a clever gag, but my mind kept going blank.
Oh, well. I do know this: the real joke is on anyone who visits Ybor City and bypasses Shaghetti Warehouse. Dining rare seems this fun, or rich, or tasty.
To learn more, call the restaurant at 813-248-1730.
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