As anybody who has ever been there - or tried to get in on a weekend - knows, Strolli's really packs them in. The main reason, of course, is the prices, which make some street vendors look expensive.
All right, so the meatballs are filled with lots of stretcher and there are times when the gravy is overcooked. And maybe some of the meat might be just a little bit dry from time to time - and the spaghetti a bit too wet - but goodness, I've never found a visit there to turn out to be anything but an enjoyable bargain.
Instead of describing the particular workings and tastes of specific dishes (it would be overbearing to go on and on about a rigatoni platter when it costs $2.25 and for 50 cents more you get a couple of meatballs), let's just concentrate on a general overview of the bargains here.
Delicious soups of homemade quality are a nightly joy - for example, a pastina soup (45 cents and $1), fresh escarole in chicken broth (60 cents and $1.25) and a noodle soup (50 cents and $1.10) so crammed with noodles you might not be able to eat anything else.
The antipasto comes in three sizes ($1.50, $2 and $3). Two people should find the middle-size one more than sufficient. You get chick peas, cheese, pepperoni, salami and a variety of pickled veggies. Even anchovies. If you want just a regular salad of lettuce and tomato, it'll cost 50 cents.
Here is a rundown of some of what Strolli's calls its Italian dinners:
Spaghetti comes with a marinara sauce ($2.10), shrimp ($3.50), clam sauce ($3), meatballs or sausage ($2.75) or with oil and garlic ($2.25). The portions are sizable.
The gnocchi are homemade. In fact, no two pieces of gnocchi here ever look alike, the result of their being cut by hand. Some are long, others are short. But they're all pretty good. You can get a platter of them tossed in a deep sauce for $2.75. For an additional 45 cents, you can get sausage, or two meatballs.
There's stuffed eggplant parmigiana ($3) that you can get with spaghetti ($3.50) or with either ravioli or gnocchi ($3.75). The ravioli, which are homemade and plump with cheese, cost $2.75 for a platter, and like most everything at Strolli's can be ordered with meatballs or sausage ($3.20).
If money burns a hole in your pocket, you can try the veal piccante ($5.50), veal scaloppine ($5.75), veal cutlet parmigiana ($5.75) or chicken cutlet parmigiana with spaghetti ($4.75).
Desserts are of the tortoni and spumoni variety ($1 each), with a regular or chocolate cheesecake (also $1 each) and a cannoli ($1.25) tossed in for good measure. Strolli's also has spirits and an affordable wine list. Owner John Strolli even plays the mandolin every now and then - when, as he says, he's in the mood.
New and noteworthy: SPQR Ristorante, 2029 Walnut St., has reopened, following a hiatus for vacations, and will be adding new seafood dishes from the Adriatic coast of Abruzzo.
1528 Dickinson St., 336-3390
Open: Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinner, Monday to Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 10 p.m., and Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.
Price range: $1.50 to $8
Credit Cards: None
Atmosphere: Just tables