Being a spaghetti and meatball fanatic I couldn't resist a trip to Acadamia Barilla in Midtown. Yes, that's right. The same Barilla pasta you see stocked on supermarket shelves. It is the latest entry into New York's casual dining scene, although the quality surpasses what you might expect to find at similar establishments.
The space is large and airy. Fresh herbs growing in wooden window boxes line one entrance, while sharing tables make it a perfect stop for larger groups. There is also counter seating and some smaller tables available.
The open-air kitchen is spotless. It is also where you will find the chefs, straight from Barilla's culinary institute in Parma, cooking up pasta in small batches along with other specialties straight from Italy. There is Spaghetti Pomodoro with lightly crushed tomatoes and fresh basil, Penne Amatriciana with bacon and sweet onions in a spicy tomato sauce, Tortellini Alfredo, and fresh-baked Lasagna layered with meat sauce and bechamel. And while technically this is "fast food", each dish we spotted looked amazing as it left the kitchen. That can make choosing very difficult.
I, on the other hand, knew exactly what I wanted. I ordered the Spaghetti E Polpettine or spaghetti with homemade meatballs. The spaghetti strand were fat, piping hot, yet still al dente. It was smothered in an amazingly fresh tomato sauce with chunks of onion and basil. It conjured up an image of eating in your Italian grandmother's kitchen, if I had an Italian grandmother.
The meatballs were moist and tasty with hints of fresh oregano. My only complaint was that they could have been larger. You can also personalize your pasta with sausage, chicken, shrimp and fresh vegetables.
Academia Barilla is also serving up thin crust pizza along with panini sandwiches and salads. Manga.