Early in the evening, there are a few tables of older diners, a group of women celebrating a birthday and a kid dining out with his grandmother. Later, families come in, as well as foursomes of casually dressed adults.
Dancing With the Stars.
The Italian fare is taken from Santoro family recipes. These are simple things most people like for dinner, such as sausage, pepper and onion; baked ziti with meatballs; and various versions of pasta Alfredo (with broccoli, chicken, crabmeat or seafood). Our choice, shrimp with penne, was a good one. It was served, as are many offerings, in what looks like a large ceramic mixing bowl, with fresh, tail-on shrimp over well-seasoned, firm pasta tubes. The sauce tended more toward a classic marinara than it did a vodka sauce, but it looked and tasted homemade.
The in-house, personal-size pizzas here are a good choice, too. The rectangular pizza arrives on a kind of cooling rack, which helps to keep its thin crust nice and crispy. Choices for toppings are straightforward - the white pizza is topped simply with ricotta, mozzarella and large florets of broccoli. A baked-in-a-bowl version, the "upside down" pizza, is available, too.
Instead of it, we went for another big wonder, the chicken pot pie, which looks like something out of Gulliver's Travels. It's as big as half a regulation basketball, but the shell is only about a quarter filled (thank goodness, or we'd still be there). When you break the brown, flaky crust with the tines of a fork, a funnel of steam escapes, and down below are the gooey and savory mixings, loaded with hunks of white-meat chicken. Keep it in mind for some cold Sunday night this winter.
We had good luck with just about everything - appetizers like the generous-looking half-rack of the tender house ribs, coated with a slightly sweet barbecue sauce; handsomely arranged mussels in a strong garlic butter sauce, which were big and pretty specimens but just on the tough side; a thick and gently seasoned cupful of cream of crab soup, with chunks of snowy crab meat; and crispy onion rings that come stacked on a dowel like a child's toy.
It turned out that the friendly "college-age" guy who greeted us and seated us was Casey Brooks. He's 23. Galling, yes, but Brooks has years of experience (Little Italy, the Charcoal Grill) along with management training at Baltimore International College. He's kept the menu simple but satisfying and best of all, has made sure the place stays senior- and family-friendly through dinner time. Great start.
On the menu•Onion rings - ($6)
• 1/2 rack ribs - ($9)
•Cup of cream of crab soup - ($5)
•Chicken pot pie - ($12)
•Shrimp and penne in vodka sauce - ($15)
•White pizza - ($8)
•Baked ziti and two meatballs - ($10)