Its apple pie American name notwithstanding, this little food stall -- one of a dozen or so in Montgomery Mall's new up-scale fast food section called the Boulevard Cafes -- is thoroughly Italian.
Homemade pasta is the nub here, and most of it is very good -- better, in fact, than lots of "real" restaurants can manage. And when you consider the price ($2.69 for a sizable plate of pasta and sausage, for example), the quality becomes even more remarkable. At these prices, of course, expect plastic forks and polystyrene platters. If you want candles and cutlery, you can take home the fresh pasta ready to cook, and the sauces in pint or quart containers.
Part of the secret here is that the pasta is cooked one order at a time and served immediately. Most of the sauces, too, are unusually good, tasting of lively vegetables, high quality canned tomatoes and real, undiluted olive oil.
In most restaurants, fettuccine Alfredo is spoiled by excess: too much cooking of the pasta, too much cream, too much cheap cheese, too much nutmeg. The result often tastes like a mixture of glue and old eggnog.
There is no such problem at Yankee Noodle Dandy. The pasta retains its bite, the sauce has good, freshly grated cheese, you can taste the butter and cream without being overwhelmed by them, and the sauce is ladled on with restraint.
Closely related and also excellent is fettuccine with vegetables and cream sauce. The carrots, celery, broccoli, bell peppers and zucchini are bright, fresh and barely cooked, and the unthickened sauce tastes of real cream. A variant on this theme, called pasta with spicy oriental sauce, combines those vegetables with water chestnuts and mushrooms in a somewhat oily sauce whose sole flavor seems to be chili peppers -- nicely hot, a good sinus-clearer, but basically uninteresting.
The two tomato-based sauces are top-notch. Tomato and mushroom sauce is bright and clean-tasting, intensely flavored, with lovely undertones of wine and olive oil. The meat sauce is crammed with lean, rough-ground beef, and has nice, complex layers of flavor, including bay leaf.
There are pasta salads, too, which are mainly dull. (We found trying to find the the chicken in one a challenging scavenger hunt.)
Forget the garlic bread, which seems to be made from soft sub rolls. A better accompaniment for any of the pasta dishes is the very nice marinated vegetable salad.
A few final notes: (1) "Half" portions of the pasta dishes are ample for one person. (2) There are occasional quality control slip-ups in which the pasta is served stuck together. If that occurs, ask for a replacement. (3) The Italian sausage here is outstanding -- loosely packed, beautifully flavored. No matter what you're having, order one on the side. (4) The cannoli (made elsewhere) is very good, too.
In many respects, Yankee Noodle Dandy is a good Italian restaurant masquerading as a fast-food stall. Take advantage of it.