A line of ten hungry customers snakes out of Pasta Plus Restaurant and Market and into the otherwise empty strip mall the restaurant lives in. Patrons don large coats and gloves to right off the cold December air while they wait to be seated.
The windows of the restaurant say it all. Beside a simple print-out displaying its hours are dozens of stickers announcing that it is top-rated on Zagat, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and AAA. Pasta Plus is split into two separate sections: the restaurant for a formal sit down experience and the market, which is open for lunch as well as for carryout orders. This makes it the perfect spot for both date night or a casual meal with friends.
(Photo by Jordan Swarm)
“We said, you know, if we do a good job with good food and decent service, then we can make it,” said Massimo Mazziotti in his thick Italian accent.
Pasta Plus Restaurant and Market is owned by brothers Massimo and Sabatino Mazziotti and serves homemade Italian food, specializing in fresh pasta and bread. The two opened the restaurant in 1983 bringing together Massimo’s experience as a waiter and Sabatino’s experience as a chef.
Kim Dreisen, a resident of Laurel, has been going to the restaurant for over 25 years. She held her order in a large brown paper bag and looked down at the line forming outside of the restaurant. “I only do carryout,” Dreisen said.
The brothers were born in Italy, in the province of Pescara, which Massimo notes as a key indicator for why their food is so good- they’re real Italians.
“My mother was involved, she was making the pasta when we started… My brother always worked in the kitchen when we came to this country, the best Italian restaurants in Washington,” said Massimo.
Photo by David Ragusa on Unsplash
The restaurant’s pasta, bread and desserts are made fresh in-house. The Mazziotti’s have also worked to incorporate dishes specific to where they are from in Italy, which means special twists like replacing lasagna noodles with crepes to create their Timballo alla Teramano, according to Massimo.
“It’s really different, nobody has it and its a signature from Pescara,” said Massimo.
Pasta Plus is located in an otherwise abandoned strip mall in Laurel, Maryland, where four other vacant retail spots sit with the ghostly signs of their former occupants hanging above them. The only other open business sits in the back of the parking lot, a freestanding Arby’s with a cowboy boot sign that soars above everything else.
“Laurel was the last place that we wanted to open a restaurant…We were looking at other places but always find something wrong with it. One day I said you know, the next place we’re going to see I don’t care where it is we’re gonna get it, it just happened to be Laurel,” said Massimo.
The location doesn’t keep customers away though, and standing in line outside the restaurant can be expected on both Friday and Saturday nights. When you step inside the energy shifts completely, busy waiters wearing ties fill the dining room, which is covered in a landscape mural of the Italian countryside. Customers are served at white-clothed tables with large wine racks surrounding the room.
(Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash)
“It can be [stressful] on the weekends, difficult people, mess-ups, but otherwise it’s kind of a go with the flow place,” said Leah Powell, a waitress at the restaurant.
Customer, Rocio Rabie explained while waiting in line that Pasta Plus was the best Italian food she had ever had. It was her third visit to the restaurant, and this time she brought along her friend, Kamil Khoury, who had driven almost two hours to get there.
“I got the lasagna and it was amazing, slicing it was like slicing soft butter, just delicious,” said Rabie.
What makes Pasta Plus unique from other restaurants is the experience the Mazziotti’s want their customers to leave with. The brothers made sure to create a culture around the restaurant, in this case, trips. Every year an email sign up becomes available in the restaurant for customers interested in taking one of the Mazziotti’s own food trips to Italy. They limit the trips to 30 people, who are chosen through a lottery system, according to Massimo.
“Italy has 20 regions, and last year we did the last one. We started from northern Italy, all the way from west to east, all the way down to the island, Sicily,” said Massimo.
(Photo by Puvida Productions)
The trips focus on food and wine specific to the region being visited, and Massimo emphasized the fact that it leaves customers more than full. Next year Massimo is hoping to take the group to see where he and Sabatino were born and what shaped the recipes they have created.
Pasta Plus was featured on Food Network’s “Best Of-Viewers Choice” and was voted “ Best D.C area Italian Restaurant” by WTOP-FM radio listeners two years in a row, according to Massimo, who is extremely proud of the accolades.
“I enjoy doing this you know, I’m 77 years old, and I still kind of love to do what we do, and I’ll always try to do a good job,” said Massimo.
Pasta Plus Restaurant and Market is open seven days a week. Wine tastings and dinners are also available on select days throughout the year. The annual trip to Italy takes off each fall according to Massimo.
“We have most of the dishes from when we started…so people who like something can come back and know that’s the perfect dish, and it is still the way they remember it even if they come after a year, six months, a week,” said Massimo.