Like most of the generation that grew up in the 1980s, the family meal bucket, box, pail or vessel was a big part of my dining out experience. Buckets of drumsticks from Kentucky Fried Chicken, the double pizza on a cardboard pallet from Little Caesar’s or the giant box of family-style nachos from the now-defunct Mexican restaurant known as Naugle’s were all welcome sights to little kid me.
For some reason, the food that makes the most sense to be served in a bucket—I’m talking about spaghetti, of course—has finally fulfilled its takeout destiny. Yup, today we’re talking buckets of spaghetti courtesy of By the Bucket (701 E. 2100 South, 385-415-2185, bythebucket.com).
If you haven’t had your eyes on this space’s development over the past few months, I’ll forgive you. It’s a tiny spot on the northeast corner of 700 East and 2100 South, and all they do is serve up spaghetti. By the bucket. As I readied myself for their arrival in Sugar House, I learned that this place is based in the Arizona area, but they’ve expanded their concept to the Eastern U.S. The Sugar House location is the chain’s beachhead in Utah, and they’ve announced plans to open a second location in Springdale.
Those who know me at all would guess that this place would be high on my list of restaurants to check out. It’s got an unconventional concept—though, truth be told I don’t know why something like this isn’t already part of our fast-food zeitgeist—and a menu that revolves around one dish. I also can’t help but feel that a takeout joint that specializes in literal buckets of noodles seems like an important, quintessentially American movement in cuisine.
When I entered By the Bucket for the first time, I was initially surprised by the variety that you could apply to your noodle adventure. Obviously, you start with spaghetti noodles and then pick your sauce from their classic marinara, white cheddar, garlic butter and seasonal options that vary. The most spaghetti you can possibly get is in the Familia Bucket ($19.95), though you can get smaller variations like the Midio Bucket ($14.95) or the Bambino Bucket ($9.95). Each bucket comes with some garlic bread, and you can also opt for add-ins like Italian sausage ($4) or a pair of meatballs ($4).
I decided on the Midio Bucket with four meatballs, and I also opted to make the traditional quarter loaf of garlic bread into a half loaf, which I realized I really didn’t need to do once I got home and unpacked everything. So. Much. Bread. The bucket itself gets a foil covering which keeps everything hot, and the meatballs come in separate containers so you can really build your own main course when you get home. Oh, I should also mention that you should always get your food to go here; there’s not a whole lot of space to chow down on your own bucket of spaghetti inside.
Once I had everything ready, I had to admit I was feeling pretty good about our dinner prospects. I’ve always thought that cheap spaghetti is a lot closer to expensive spaghetti than any of us are ever ready to admit. I went with the classic marinara sauce, and they do a nice job of providing you with just enough sauce to coat the noodles. It’s a fresh-tasting sauce that goes easy on the sugar, which was a relief. Fast-casual spaghetti usually compensates with a sauce that tastes like ketchup, but you get none of that here.
The meatballs were also impressive, and I’d have to suggest getting at least a pair to complement the meal. Alone, the spaghetti and sauce were a little milquetoast, but throw some hearty beef meatballs in there, and you’ve got something that sticks to your bones. I do have to gripe a bit about the noodles, which is admittedly a big gripe when talking spaghetti. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the texture had a rubbery chew that wasn’t the al dente work of a pasta professional, that’s for sure.
Those after more of a quick bite will want to check out their sandwich menu, where you can snag Italian sausage and cheese ($10.95), meatball mozzarella ($10.95) or chicken provolone ($8.95). They’re all serviceable sandwiches, though the meatball mozzarella is the number one for my money. You can’t really beat a heap of meatballs oozing with marinara and mozzarella cheese on a sandwich.
So where do we land on By the Bucket? Maybe I’m overly nostalgic, but having a one-stop spaghetti shop where a busy parent can hop in and pick up enough food to feed the family for a fairly reasonable price is always a good thing. Though I did have some issues with their noodles, I was happy with my overall experience here. I mean, it’s a bucket of spaghetti. How can that not make you smile?