Ravioli Company helps you make dinner 

Let's not call this a restaurant review, if only because Ravioli Company is not much of a restaurant. Sure, the place dishes out hot food to dozens of folks every day, has plenty of regulars recognized by name the instant they walk through the door, and fulfills the basic functions of providing food to the masses, but there's no place to sit. Takeaway only.

But calling Ravioli Company a mere takeout joint also misses the point. Although everything comes in plastic and Styrofoam, with cello-wrapped packs of napkin and silverware, the food is tastier than what you'll find from most sit-down joints. Even better, this is the type of place that encourages you to do some of the cooking for yourself.

At $3.95 a pound for four different types of pasta -- and the option of about a dozen different cuts and shapes -- there's no excuse for anyone near the South Tampa area to buy those boxes of dried stuff at the grocery store, ever again. In fact, folks adventurous enough to break out the roller and make their own pasta dough might just want to give it up in favor of more useful tasks. Like driving to Ravioli Company.

Order a pound of egg linguine and they pull sheets of fresh pasta straight from the fridge, running each one through the right machine to cut it into uniform strips. Touch the tangle of noodles before you drop them in the water and they feel elastic, giving, sensuous even. Taste one as you dump the cooked pasta into a colander and you immediately realize what you've been missing with every box of Barilla or Mueller's. This is why pasta is on the same level as bread for most fundamental of foodstuffs. Even unsauced, the stuff is glorious.

Ravioli's eponymous dish is the draw for many folks who stop by to stock the freezer for a month's worth of stuffed pasta. There are over 30 varieties (most around $8.95 for 28 pieces) of ravioli available daily, from the utterly simple classic meat or four cheese to whimsical varieties like goat cheese and fig or shrimp and smoked gouda. And, since they come frozen and go straight into the water straight from the icebox, it's one of the easiest and tastiest quick-cook meals around.

Even frozen and stuffed, the quality of Ravioli Company's pasta shows on your plate of home-cooked ravioli: tender and toothsome, with a bounty of flavors hidden inside. Butternut squash is more savory than sweet, with almost more ricotta mixed into the filling than smooth squash. The spinach and feta ravioli is accented with occasional bursts of bright sun-dried tomato, not in every single piece, just enough to surprise your palate and add some excitement.

On one occasion, goat cheese and fig tasted more like ricotta than bright chevre, but the decadently sweet chunks fruit still made it worthwhile. Instead of the expected chunky blend of meat, bean and cheese, Ravioli Company's pork carnitas, manchego and black bean is a mashed and pureed paste, hitting with Latin flavors and a hint of spice.

Ravioli Company's sauces might encourage you to do some cooking for yourself. There are over a dozen varieties available randomly in the pasta shop's cooler, all worth eating, none inspired. The simple plum tomato serves as the base for many of the sauces, but spend a couple of hours on the weekend and you'll likely be able to make better than you can find here.

The cooked food at Ravioli Company is another viable option, especially when it comes to salads. There are a few options, but even the simplest shows an appreciation for livening up greens with a whole bunch of different veggies, like blanched cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus and green beans.

For pasta, you can get any of the ravioli with any of the sauces, or order from several different lasagnas. The ravioli is a better choice, since using fresh pasta in lasagna often causes the tender noodles to get lost amidst the sea of sauce and cheese, almost melting into the other ingredients, turning the whole thing into a soft, textureless mass.

Other entrees, usually some form of seafood or meat served over a pile of pasta, are uniformly competent, perfect for the nights you want to move from commute straight to couch, with no cooking to slow down the descent into televised relaxation.

But for the rest of the week, make sure you have a couple pounds of Ravioli Company's pasta, and a few bags of stuffed ravioli, in the freezer. You'll never buy dried pasta again.

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