Vince's does Sicilian sauce old school
By: Stacy Davies
Inland Empire Weekly
There are more types of pasta sauce at the supermarket than chilis, salad dressings or marinades—at least at my local grocer. Americans love pasta, you see, especially spaghetti. In fact, according to a study in North Dakota—the pasta-making durum wheat capital of the US—Americans consume 14 pounds of pasta per person a year. (Italians twirl up 62 pounds.) That's a pretty hearty number—and one made possible, no doubt, by these bottled sauces and the ease and inexpensiveness of it all. It also means that any fancy-shmancy restaurant that's going to offer up pasta better make it, well, fancy-shmancy . And while I love a tender penne arrabiata, bowtie with ham and peas in pink sauce, and spinach stuffed ravioli in pesto, sometimes I do just want a plate of spaghetti. Order that at most places and you'll get either watery bottled sauce a la Ragu, or you'll pay more for it than it's worth.
Enter the Cuccia's.
In 1945, WWII vet John Cuccia (who served under Patton in the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart) came home to Ontario and decided to open up a French dip joint with his two brothers, Vincent and George. Although they had all been born in Chicago, their mother, called Grandma Rose, was straight from the isle of Sicily—and she'd brought her recipe book with her on the boat.
While the slow-roasted beef dips were a hit, it was when a weary traveler asked for some of the Cuccia boys own dinner— spaghetti —that became the turn of happenstance that gave birth to what would eventually be billed as “the largest spaghetti restaurant west of the Mississippi River—with a kitchen.” In fact, Grandma Rose didn't have a kitchen when they first opened their original orange-grove nestled, six-stool, open-air shack, and she had to cook the meals 50 yards away in her home and run them out to patrons. By 1968, Grandma Rose had quit running and Vince's gained its famous slogan, swelling to a 400-seat capacity— with a kitchen. It's still run by the Cuccia family today.
Now, that's a nice story. But you can't eat a story—and when I first laid eyes on Vince's, had I been alone, I probably would have walked back out. Not that there was anything wrong with Vince's in the least—I'm just used to eating my pasta at those over-priced fancy joints. But my companion had told me that Vince's was hands-down the best spaghetti ever . And this I had to taste. So, we slid into our no-frills booth in a room packed with no-frills families and opened up our no-frills menus. Seriously no-frills. Reading that menu was one of the few times in my life that I didn't have trouble deciding what to order. There's spaghetti, mostaccioli and mostasagna (a lasagna made with mostaccioli). Simple. Of course I had to try any experimental, hybrid dish, so mostasagna it was while everyone else kept on the traditional spaghetti trail with a side of hand-rolled meatballs thrown in; bread, salad and soup made from scratch were also included.
When our waitress rolled out the serving cart—yes, like a silver one, like one used at a convalescent home to deliver Jell-O cups or medication—it seemed like the vegetable beef soup and iceberg salad were a little plain Jane. Plain or not, one spoonful of the piping hot stuff and I was hooked. There was no oily residue, which is often the case with such soups and why I would usually stay away from them, just hearty barley and finely cut veggies and beef. Excellent. The salad, was a salad, neither here nor there, but was at least cold and crisp. Can't complain.
Then the little gal ushered in our pastas—and we realized that sharing a dinner would have been more than fine. Vince's does not skimp on the pasta, and certainly not on the sauce—our girl even brought us an extra cup of sauce on the side , at no additional charge. Two big baskets of garlic and cheese bread, and we were set.
I took a bite of my layers and layers of mostaccioli filled with cheese and sauce and suddenly realized why Grandma Rose should have been called St. Grandma Rose or St. Rose—or whatever Catholic reverie might have been appropriate for her. She was a goddamn genius ( pardona nonna Rosa).
The zing in the sauce was there—not too overpowering for a tender American palate (which I have not) and just fancy enough for a high maintenance palate (which I have upon occasion). The cheese was fresh, creating long, rubbery, strings from the plate to my mouth, and the pasta was supple and cooked just right. And there was a lot of it. So much, in fact, that I actually did share with my tablemates. But that was really just a bribe so that I could dip into their spaghetti and meatballs; same great sauce and a large, succulent meatball. I barely had room for the garlic cheese bread, but I managed two pieces before leaning back like a bloated, albeit happy , lardass.
The only other incredible thing about Vince's are the prices: $5 for a kid's dinner and a little over $9 for yours—unless you try the mostasagne (which I highly recommend) for $13. At those rates, throw on your flip-flops and leave the Ragu at home.