A resident of Arnold, I am constantly driving past Café Mezzanotte. In the many years that my family has lived here, however, I haven’t had the opportunity to try it out. I have always given myself the impression that it was a local’s place, and probably a little too old-school for my tastes. When the opportunity to review the Café came up, I was curious, but not overly optimistic.
As it turned out, the timing was just right for Chandra and I to spend our 15th wedding anniversary at Café Mezzanotte. As the weather was still nice, we decided to dine outside on the Café’s side patio. Walking through the dining room, I felt the atmosphere was well suited for a pleasant dining experience, but when Chandra wants to sit outside, we sit outside.
We were greeted with an enthusiastic waiter, an extensive wine list, and about a whole loaf of rosemary bread with sun dried tomato dipping oil. Listening to some of the other patrons around us, I could hear that many of them were indeed regulars. The couple who sat right next to us didn’t even order, and suddenly there was a bottle of wine and food headed to the table. It made me smile to see that the Café had such a connection with their guests.
Reading through the menu, the first thing that struck me was the entire page of local sourcing. Café Mezzanotte is obviously proud of their farm and seafood partnerships. I received a personal thrill every time I saw “Cape May Scallops” on a dish. I practically grew up in Cape May, New Jersey, and while it isn’t immediately local, Cape May is certainly the best place in the region to get sea scallops. All throughout the menu was evidence of farm-to-fork in their food.
We started with the zuppa, a cup of Pasta Fagioli ($5) for Chandra, and a cup of Cream of Crab ($7) for me. The Pasta Fagioli had a strong tomato flavor, tender noodles and bright vegetables. We were sitting right next to the outside garden, and you could taste the freshness in the soup. The Cream of Crab was thick and creamy, with large chunks of crab. It could have used a little more sherry in my opinion, but otherwise I enjoyed it immensely.
For mains we went with two of the house specialties. Chandra had the Scallop Portofino ($26), fresh-made pasta shells (cavatelli) in a Parmesan cream sauce with spinach, smoked bacon and sautéed apples. The scallops were large and seared perfectly. The sauce was rich and the shells tender. The apples went surprisingly well with this dish, especially with the bacon and scallops. The Portofino was very enjoyable, and not at all what you usually find on an Italian American menu.
I had the Fettuccine Mediterraneo ($27), which (I was told) is their best-selling dish. This was fresh-made pasta with chunks of crab, scallops and shrimp in your choice of sauce. I selected the Vodka rosa sauce, which went excellently with the bottle of 2015 Cecchi Chianti that Chandra chose for us. The fresh pasta melted in my mouth, and the sauce was the perfect balance of acidic taste and creamy texture. Again, this was an excellent dish.
As a side Chandra also ordered a plate of heirloom tomatoes ($5). Any place that has fresh tomatoes on their menu is proud of their vegetable selection, and these did not disappoint, topped with gorgonzola cheese and seasoned olive oil.
For once we left room for dessert, eating only half of our mains and taking the rest home. This allowed us to get both the Lemon Cheese Cake ($9) and the Italian Bread Pudding ($8), both of which were made in-house, as were most of the desserts on the menu. The cheese cake was an individually baked 4-inch ‘cake’ made with ricotta and mascarpone cheeses on top of a crushed biscotti crust, and served with Amarena cherries. The cheese cake itself has a less-creamy texture, what with the different cheeses, but I enjoyed it very much. The crunchy crust was particularly good.
The bread pudding was dense and flavorful. The homemade caramel sauce was particularly good, and the Vanilla gelato complemented the dessert nicely. I missed the raisins that were supposed to be in the bread, but all-in-all this was a well done dessert.
Café Mezzanotte was a definite surprise to me, and a lesson to not make pre-judgments about a restaurant. The owner is passionate about good food, and dedicated to local sourcing. He also loves it when people get to try new things, and offers a large variety of unique foods and drinks throughout the menu. Café Mezzanote changes large portions of the menu about every six months, keeping the classics, but introducing new seasonal dishes each time.
Executive Chef Zach Trabbold will be launching the Fall menu soon. I can’t wait to see what he has in store.
David Ludwig is a Chef Instructor at the HCAT Institute of Anne Arundel Community College.
The article’s headline has been revised to correct the location of the restaurant.
WHERE: 760 Ritchie Hwy, Severna Park
HOURS: Sunday 11 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
HAPPY HOUR: Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. $1 off all drinks, discounted appetizers. Lounge seating as well.
EXECUTIVE CHEF: Zack Trabbold
LUNCH: $10 to $15
DINNER: $15 to $30
DESSERTS: Many in-house selections
CREDIT CARDS: All Major Cards