Andy’s Italian Kitchen

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230 Farmington Ave., Farmington, 860-676-0800

I admit, I'm fussy -- and a bit of a snob -- when it comes to Southern Italian food. I've had my heart broken too many times looking for meatballs as good as my mother's, sauce like my grandmother's and ricotta pie to rival my Aunt Ellie's. So when a friend suggested this eatery in a strip mall in Farmington, I wasn't expecting much -- until I opened the menu and spotted such dishes as "Grace's Veggies," "Poppie's Special" and "Uncle's Pizza."

Turns out the family-owned restaurant uses family recipes, makes most of their items from scratch and offers a number of dishes that would be right at home at Sunday dinner at Nana's house. Take Poppie's Special. The dish features a heap of fettuccini topped with fresh broccoli, spinach, carrots and cauliflower that has been sauteed with fresh garlic in olive oil. Take it home, top it off with a sprinkling of crushed red pepper, pour yourself a glass of red wine, and mangia.

Andy's "special sauces" include a hearty meat sauce, pesto sauce, a tomato vodka sauce, Alfredo sauce and garlic and oil. Mix and match your favorite with a choice of capellini, penne or shells and meatball or sausage. I went for the penne with meat sauce and meatballs. The pasta was al dente, the sauce was slow-simmered, the portion was abundanza, and the meatballs, while not quite as good as Mom's, were large, tender and well seasoned.

Dinners include ravioli, tortellini, gnocchi and baked stuffed shells and come with salad and a great Italian bread. Pizzas here are chewy-crusted, with a number of interesting options.

The only downside to my visit? No ricotta pie. Andy's Italian Kitchen is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Do you have a favorite takeout place? Send suggestions to Korky Vann, The Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 or