Value Meal / Defining Old School: Back to T.A.T
Posted by cmh gourmand on May 15, 2013
It has been a couple of years since I visited TAT Ristorante di Famiglia. No surprise that nothing has changed at this classic eatery but my appreciation of the place has grown. Due to a craving for Midwestern Italian comfort classics and not being able to think of many restaurants in town that really deliver the goods, I did two back to back visits to TAT.
There was a golden era of restaurant dining in America from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Booths were big, so was the hair. The economy was good and dining out became a common habit instead of an occasional custom. In particular, Italian restaurants were trending high after America’s appetite for the fare changed after World War II. Think of the movie Big Night, well think of the feel of a place, not the cuisine, Primo would have gone ballistic looking at The TAT menu. To set the scene, there was a time when most of the staff in a restaurant was from the same family, when you would have the same server every visit, when there really was a family recipe and something cooked from scratch in the back by grandma and when customers wore fine garments for fine dining.
The above might be referred to as “Old School”. I was trying to think of places that were true “old school in Columbus. I could not think of many. To many, old school might mean old-fashioned, out dated or inauthentic cuisine. To that I say hooey. Old School has its place especially for natives of the Midwest who were reared with this as our model for “exotic” food. There is something more than comforting in regards to comfort food. For some, there is a lot of comfort that comes from cottage fries, chicken livers and cottage cheese on the main menu. TAT still feels like stepping back to 1978 or even 1958. On my visits, I looked around and saw neither the customers or staff had changed since my last visit in 2011. I could not spot a server under 50. Most of the customers are families that interact with staff like they have been coming here for decades and probably always ordering the same thing. There is something nostalgic about this type of atmosphere and again, something comforting about this culinary time capsule. They don’t make them like this anymore and they probably can’t. I hope that all of these elements can carry on as the 4th and 5th generations of the Carrova family take over the front and back of the house. And I hope the children and the grandchildren of the current customers keep coming back to preserve this culinary classic. On my first revisit, I saw several older couples dressed in suit and tie or cocktail dress. The clothing may have been a bit worn or out of fashion, but I admired the dedication these couple made to make a night out special. I also saw a couple of kids come in for prom, also dressed to the nines, who came to TAT for a special night and special meal. I struggle to paint the scene in words but trust me that no other place in town can replicate this environment. I also observed that the older couples were wrapping up their early bird specials and I resolved to check that out myself on my next visit.
Talk about a blast from the past. Other than MCL Cafeteria, I can’t think of another eatery that can dish out the array of offerings that TAT can for their Early Bird Special. It is featured 3:30 to 6 pm Tuesday to Sunday. The entrees are reduced portions of customers favorites from the regular menu. However, for $10.95 this is a real feast. The four course meal included an appetizer (often soup), salad, an entrée and a (scaled down) dessert, often a slice of homemade cake. Bread (with crackers) and butter service is included as well. I am often asked by younger folks about a family friendly place they can take their grandparents, kids or more “conservative” eaters. This is the place and this is the meal that will fill that void for old school, “safe” eating in the capital city. The food is good, the atmosphere is unique and the experience is priceless.
And now for some bonus content. While I was there, and having been identified as a regular by having visited twice in the same month, I was given an insider tip about breakfast at TAT. Longtime readers know that I view breakfast as my fifth favorite meal, so I did not check this out, but maybe you will or one of our Columbus Breakfast bloggers. Photos below are my pictorial contribution to your breakfast knowledge.