The Della Roses are a family that works.
The family has been in the restaurant business since 1944, when brothers Tony and Joe Della Rose opened a tavern in East Baltimore. Over time, the business grew and changed, morphing into a cheery pub serving bar-friendly food with an Italian twist.
Today, three generations of the family work at Della Rose's Avenue Tavern, which opened on the Avenue at White Marsh in 1998. From the matriarch, now in her 80s and still working in the kitchen, to family members in their 20s and 30s, daily operations are a family affair.
With that much family spirit, it's no surprise that walking into Della Rose's feels like walking into someone's home. As soon as we entered, a chipper hostess said hello, showing us to our table with the friendly tone of someone leading neighbors into her own kitchen.
With its corner spot, two sides of Della Rose's are lined with large windows that keep both the dining room and bar bright. Despite all that natural light, the tavern has the feel of a much-loved man cave.
Multiple TVs — all tuned to sports — are scattered throughout both the bar and dining room. Jerseys and sports memorabilia from various local high school, college and professional teams dot the walls. During our visit, a boisterous group of guys in the bar cheered for Mexico and Italy as the two countries competed on the baseball diamond. ("They don't care who wins," our waitress said with a laugh.)
Della Rose's menu is, appropriately, stocked with the kind of food that pairs well with watching sports. A bowl of Buffalo chicken dip ($9.99), with plenty of warm grilled pita triangles, was chunky, tangy and large enough to share.
The dip sparked a debate at our table. The blue cheese fan liked its reliance on the pungent cheese, while the hot sauce fan wished the dip was spicier (a couple shakes of Tabasco — already on the table — added that desired heat).
Both camps agreed that the grilled bread was a nice touch. But we also shared the opinion that the dip should have been heated more evenly. A few bites were lukewarm, while others were appropriately hot. A quick stir in the kitchen would have evenly distributed the warmth.
The shrimp Caesar bruschetta salad ($13.50) was light and full of flavor. A traditional Caesar salad, crunchy romaine lettuce tossed with creamy Caesar dressing and small croutons, got added punch from two tomato-topped slices of bread and a scattering of shrimp.
The bruschetta was a top-notch addition. The bread was buttered and grilled to a light toast, and topped with well-seasoned, chopped tomatoes.
The chilled shrimp, on the other hand, felt like an afterthought. They were slightly overcooked and lacked seasoning; the salad would have been improved if they were warm and sauteed to order.
A hearty sandwich of thin-sliced roast pork and broccoli rabe ($8.99), served with a side of chips, drew a similar assessment: We enjoyed it but would have preferred the combination warmer.
The pork was nicely seasoned, moist and well-matched with the bitter edge of the rabe, but serving the sandwich at room temperature dulled the flavors of both the meat and vegetable.
Still, the sandwich was a happy find on the menu — an effective show of sophisticated flavors with traditional Italian roots.
During dinner, we sipped an amusingly named "Boh-tini" ($2) — a Natty Boh draft served in a pint glass with an Old Bay rim. The combination makes sense not only from a regional pride perspective, but also from a gastronomic one. By the end of the first round, with a toast to the Land of Pleasant Living, we wondered why we'd ever drink the beer any other way.
Dessert — a giant slab of Della Rose's homemade ice cream cake ($5.99) — was a treat worthy of any kid's birthday party. Vanilla ice cream layered with chocolate cookie and drizzled with chocolate sauce was sweet and charming, a fun way to end the meal.
Throughout the our time there, our waitress was prompt and friendly, joking with us now and then. Della Rose's dining room is small, but it was busy during our visit. Even with just two waitresses working, all of the tables seemed well-tended and pleased.
By the time we left, international baseball was over and the Washington Capitals had taken over the airwaves. Baseball or hockey, it didn't matter. Della Rose's is a great place to watch any game. Or just to spend an evening hanging with the Della Rose family.
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