By Donna Cornelius
Bare Naked Noodles is not your average eatery.
For starters, you may think your GPS has gone bonkers when you follow its directions to the café and arrive at a sprawling office complex in Hoover. But you’re in the right place. Go into the building’s East or West entrances and, as Bare Naked Noodles owner Linda Croley says, “Just follow your nose.”
From 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on weekdays, the café serves breakfast, brunch and lunch. Until 4 p.m., customers can come in to pick up not only menu items but Croley’s raviolis, lasagnas, meatballs and sauces.
And at night?
“We turn into a pasta-making operation,” Croley said. She and her helpers stay late to roll out sheet after sheet of pasta dough for her Italian specialties.
The Hoover resident hasn’t always been in the food business. She was working in brokerage when she started her pasta company in 2011, she said.
“I started selling dried pasta, but my goal was to produce fresh pasta,” she said.
Croley said she was in Seattle when a Pappardelle’s Pasta display at Pike’s Place Market hooked her.
“There were 150 candy jars full of pasta,” she said. “After I ordered three large shipments, the company called and asked if I wanted to sell it.”
Croley said the key to starting her own business was when she began to sell her own tomato sauce in 2013. But since she couldn’t produce a large quantity of the sauce at home, she got a spot at Chef’s Workshop, a commercial kitchen provider in Hoover.
“I was content for a while,” Croley said. “I had a team. I was working at Wells Fargo by day and making pasta at night.”
Croley was selling her products at Birmingham area farmers markets, festivals and grocery stores and through her website, www.barenakednoodles.net, when the opportunity to open a restaurant presented itself. Her business was outgrowing the commercial kitchen space, she said.
“In March of this year, I was contacted by the previous owner of this café,” she said. “This was on a Sunday night. By Monday, I owned it.”
The Bare Naked Noodles café opened for one week at the end of March. Then it closed so Croley and her husband, Jesse, could visit Italy for two weeks. But even her vacation was food-focused.
“We rolled pasta with little old ladies who didn’t speak English and toured olive oil factories and wineries,” Croley said. “We opened for good in April.”
The business’ name came up during a brainstorming session, she said.
“With the pasta noodles we were selling, the flavor is all in the noodle,” she said. “It’s pasta that doesn’t need to get dressed.”
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a pasta dish that Bare Naked Noodles doesn’t have. There’s Croley’s favorite, lasagna, in meat, veggie and butternut squash versions. She typically has 30-something flavors of ravioli, some that are staples and others that are seasonal.
She doesn’t make manicotti with pasta sheets.
“We use an egg crepe with fluffy ricotta, basil and parmesan cheese covered in tomato sauce,” Croley said.
Bare Naked Noodles has three types of meatballs – mini, large and large stuffed with mozzarella. Also on the menu are cannelloni, gnocchi, tortellini and tortelloni.
Not everything is Italian.
“We also do platters of chicken enchiladas just because we love them,” Croley said.
When you visit the café, look for the day’s menu on a large chalkboard beside the front door. There’s always a quiche of the day in addition to muffins, croissants with jam, fruit, granola and yogurt.
You’ll find sandwiches like the Italian grinder with salami, pepperoni, provolone and olive salad. The Tuscan turkey sandwich has fontina, tomatoes and basil pesto.
On the lighter side, the Taste of Italy salad is a mozzarella plate with prosciutto, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, grilled crostini, tomatoes and olives. Fresh squash noodle salad has goat cheese and house vinaigrette.
Heartier entrees might include lasagna or pork tenderloin over Pappardelle’s Pasta with rustic carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions and lardons.
Fresh roasted vegetables and desserts are available, too.
Croley said she uses locally made products as much as possible.
“I know every single farmer and every single meat distributor we use,” she said. “We concentrate on Alabama products.”
The Long Island, New York, native said she grew up cooking with her mother’s Italian family.
“The memories are so great,” Croley said. “I remember being in the kitchen with my grandma making her Sunday sauce. On Christmas Eve, we’d stuff dates.”
The stuffed dates helped her win a national Eating Well magazine contest.
“They wanted recipes for cookies with memories, so I came up with mine, which I called One Nutty Date,” she said.
Croley said food was a way for her to stay connected to her family.
“Once I moved away from home, whenever I’d get homesick, I’d cook something,” she said.
She worked on Wall Street and in 1994 was recruited to Birmingham by a life insurance company. She was working for Wells Fargo when she retired.
“My goal was to retire from brokerage when I was 55, and I made it, and now I’m working harder than I ever worked,” she said, smiling. “It’s been crazy – and fun.”
The company also does catering and provides private chef services. Croley plans to offer pasta-making classes and special dinners and events, she said.
Bare Naked Noodles products are sold in the Birmingham area at farmers markets, at Western Supermarkets and at Piggly Wiggly’s Bluff Park, Clairmont Avenue, Homewood and Liberty Park stores.
Bare Naked Noodles Café is at 100 Concourse Parkway, suite 145, in Hoover. For more information, visit the website or follow the company on Instagram and Twitter @pastasogood.