Flavor: Date night deal

Recession? What recession?

We walked into Broders’ Pasta Bar after 8 on a recent Tuesday — not exactly prime time for destination dining — and the line snaked out the door. We were handed beepers for our half-an-hour wait as if it were Valentine’s Day.

Which is, kind of, what it was. The Broder brood fosters date night, budget dining and culinary thrills all in one sweetheart of a package called After Eight. Here’s the deal: Sundays through Thursdays, a couple can dine on a pair of pastas, wine, canapé and salad for a total tab of $28 (less than a bottle wine alone at some of those cafés with the empty tables). Oh wait: There’s also a basket of hearty Tuscan bread and lovosh with top-drawer olive oil for mopping, too, delivered by servers so solicitous they seem to be whispering "Mangia, mangia!" under their breath.

With your half carafe of wine (choose rosso or bianco) and bread comes a saucer of assorted imported olives — a spunky mix of sizes, shapes and flavors that start the night off right.

Next, a pair of sumptuous salads painstakingly created, not a mere afterthought. This evening’s featured baby spinach mined with crumbled nuts, chunky blue cheese and nuggets of sweet pears lightly bathed in olive oil.

Now comes the hard part — choosing from a list of six pastas, ranging from a sassy Puttanesca to a suave Alfredo. They’re prepared and served in true Italian style (the Broders know what they’re doing, all right) — moderately portioned and modestly sauced, just like in the Old Country, then topped off with shavings from the king of cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano.

I’m a sucker for Spaghetti Carbonara, and here it’s prepared in classic style, incorporating bits of pancetta, Parmesan and Romano cheeses melding in a sauce of eggs and cream — just enough to cling to the noodles rather than close your arteries. My pal’s Tagliatelle alla Bolognese proved another archetype: Noodles cranked out by hand in the kitchen, then cooked al dente, piled onto a plate and ladled — judiciously, so the tagliatelle remain the star of the show — with a rich and chunky beef ragu simmered with veggies and red wine until intense with flavor.

The place is more than a sum of those parts, though I’d be happy eating those components in front of a computer screen. Yet I’m happier still to soak up the conviviality of the simple Southside trattoria — the hum of ardent conversations and the give-and-take with the cooks behind the u-shaped counter for those who want their cooking show live and in person. Scanty frequent-flier miles and euros mean I won’t be returning to Italy any time soon, so I’m saved from that depressing reality check by the next best thing: a visit to Broders’ — After Eight. No reservations are taken, so don your mittens and get in line.

Broders’ Pasta Bar
5000 Penn Ave. S.
925-9202
broders.com/pasta-bar