For more than a century, the family behind Trinacria Foods has been a reliable source for great Italian food products. The family's flagship location — a shop and deli on North Paca Street — is the kind of spot that inspires loyalty, even love. Between the gigantic sandwiches, the sweet Italian treats and the unbelievably low-priced bottles of wine, there's a lot to like.
The family's new Mount Vernon outpost, Trinacria Cafe, opened earlier this year to an enthusiastic reception. While it lacks some of the cramped old-world charm of the Paca Street spot, with ample seating and the same very good food, it should please both Trinacria loyalists and anybody looking for a good Italian meal in the shadow of the Walters.
Scene & Decor The cafe is located on the first floor of Gallery Tower in a large, windowed space. The room felt somewhat generic; the only personality came from a few pictures dotting the walls and a wire shelf stacked with sauces for sale. But that was easily forgiven thanks to the size of the place. Being able to easily find a table has its benefits.
Around six on a Thursday, the crowd was sparse; given the location, it's not surprising that Trinacria Cafe does a brisker lunch business than dinner. A few other tables were occupied by lone diners and small groups of friends.
Service Diners order food at the counter and, during our visit, someone from the kitchen delivered it to our table (although during busier times diners' names are called and they get their orders up front). Delivery of the food was efficient and the staff was pleasant, even running to the back to find ceramic plates instead of paper once they realized we were dining in instead of carrying out.
Appetizers We started with a Greek salad ($7.75) that was actually the least exciting thing we tried. There was nothing wrong with it, the vegetables were fresh, the feta plentiful and the simple balsamic vinaigrette was pleasantly acidic. It was a good Greek salad, just not exciting.
A side order of meatballs ($3.95) — soft and savory, served in a bright marinara sauce — was a better showcase for the kitchen's talents. The meatballs alone would make a filling lunch.
Entrees The cafe's menu overlaps with the Paca Street menu, though fans of a particular sandwich may find that their go-to order tastes slightly different at the new location. According to owner Vince Fava, the new location's size allows the kitchen to use more freshly prepared ingredients (like freshly grilled red peppers instead of jarred), so flavors may vary a bit.
The porchetta panini ($7.95), a warm pressed sandwich of roasted pork, sauteed onions and provolone with roasted red pepper spread, was thicker than the average panini and well-seasoned throughout.
On its own, the pork was fantastic; with the sweet, soft onions, it was even better. Our only complaint was that some bites were a touch dry. A heavier hand with the roasted red pepper spread would have been nice.
One of the benefits of the new location is the expanded menu — including a handful of thin crust pizzas. The sweet and salty pizza ($8.95), topped with caramelized onions, garlic, kalamata olives and mozzarella then sprinkled with parsley, was full of powerful flavors. Thanks to the mix of ingredients, the pizza achieved a careful balance of sweet, salty, savory and fresh elements.
The crust was thin and delicate enough that the pizza was easier to eat with a fork. The crust's flaky edges were a lovely snack on their own, even without the toppings.
Drinks Trinacria Cafe recently received a liquor license; they expect to serve beer, wine and liqueurs appropriate for coffee drinks very soon.
During our visit, alcoholic drinks weren't yet available, so we made do with San Pelligrino's flavored sodas ($1.99) — the tart, fizzy blood orange soda was our favorite.
Dessert After dinner, we gorged on a hunk of Trinacria's homemade tiramisu ($3.69), a sweet, gooey and traditional take on the dessert. It's coffee quotient was higher than some versions and we loved the smoky flavor.
As we left, packing up half our pizza for the next day's lunch (it held up), Trinacria was nearly empty. Next time we visit, we expect most of those seats will be filled.
Back story: The family behind longtime Baltimore favorite Trinacria Foods opened Trinacria Cafe in Mount Vernon earlier this year. The new cafe is a restaurant, not a deli, improving on the original location with lots of seating and a few smart and appealing additions to the menu.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: The sweet and salty pizza is exactly as advertised - a delicate crust topped with sweet and salty combination of mozzarella, garlic, sweet caramelized onions and briny kalamata olives, freshened with a sprinkle of parsley.
TVs: None during our visit but one will be added
Where: 111 W. Centre Street, Baltimore
Contact: 443-759-4082; trinacriabaltimore.com
Open: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Classic — and terrific — Italian sandwiches and pizzas in a casual, carry-out friendly setting