PICTURED: Bread, minestrone soup and fresh salad: an excellent start to any meal . . . or a satisfying meal in itself. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

Little Tony’s Italian Restaurant
1441 Redwood St., Oxnard
805-486-3619
https://www.littletonysitalianrestaurant.com/
$4-50


Beans and rice. Mac and cheese. A big, steaming bowl of stew. There are some things in life that are just synonymous with culinary comfort. Pasta in a deep, rich red sauce is one of those things.

Little Tony’s Italian Restaurant in Oxnard specializes in that sort of old-fashioned, spaghetti-and-meatballs comfort food. The menu is a wide array of classic Italian standards: spaghetti and ravioli, all the parmigianas, manicotti, baked pastas and chicken marsala. If you like it rich, saucy and cheesy, Little Tony’s has it covered.

And if you have a family to feed on a budget, the restaurant has that in hand, too. There are two “family feasts” available, enough to feed two adults and two younger (or less voracious) eaters. For just under $50, you can get two orders of either spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna, two salads (you can substitute minestrone soup if you like), a large cheese pizza and dinner rolls or garlic bread. That’s a lot to mangia for the money — and provides a decent swath through the menu. We decided to give it a go.

For our feast we selected lasagna, one salad and a bowl of minestrone and dinner rolls. In retrospect — garlic bread would have been the better option. We got a lot of bread (the rolls are huge, and there’s six of them) but it was dry and not especially flavorful. I was able to turn the leftovers into some decent garlic bread of my own, however.

Little Tony’s Pizza. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Another good use: sopping up the tangy marinara of our lasagna. The baked noodles were practically swimming in the stuff — not the worst offense, and the sauce is good (if a little on the acidic side), but I would have preferred more pasta and cheese. Flavorwise, however, there were no complaints here — and the generous portions (remember: the feast includes two orders) meant that we even had a little to enjoy the next day. I will confirm that the cold, day-old lasagna was delicious (possibly better than when it arrived).

My favorite thing was the minestrone, and I would have happily made a meal of just that if the option was available! The soup base was not the least bit watery, and it was loaded with vegetables and deep, rich, persistent flavor. Plenty of Italian restaurants fail at making a minestrone as good as it could be, but Little Tony’s chef clearly knows their way around a soup pot. Paired with a fresh salad (romaine leaves, olives, tomato slice and peperoncini), it’s a hearty and healthy meal — and I’d love to see a soup-centric family feast on the menu sometime.

Pizza is always a crowd pleaser, and I was delighted to have this included in the feast. We stuck with plain old cheese (yes, you can add toppings for a little extra) and found it to be fine, not stellar. I liked the taste and texture of the chewy crust, which was a solid “medium” in thickness (not Neapolitan-style thin, not Chicago thick); the cheese was a bit rubbery. Not sure what was off there, exactly, but while we enjoyed it, we all agreed that we’ve had better.

All told, I still think that $50 was well spent. We ate well, got that comfort-Italian fix, and even had some leftovers. The pizza notwithstanding, there was lots to enjoy . . . and plenty of intriguing options I’d love to try next. There’s nothing “little” about the value or the flavor at Little Tony’s.