Facci is a new bistro-style Italian restaurant near Columbia. The good and very affordable food here is from chef Gino Palma-Esposito, who co-owns Facci with his wife Pilar.
If his calling card is Neopolitan-style pizza made in wood-burning ovens — crusts made from imported dough, sauce made from imported canned tomatoes — his open kitchen turns out very tasty, generously portioned and thoughtfully assembled appetizers, entrees and pasta dishes, too. Just when you think Facci is playing it safe, it will come close to knocking your socks off, like with the best take on pasta with clams to show up in a long time, a ridiculously satisfying meatball appetizer or a heavenly dessert like the zabaglione with strawberries.
With no entree over $20, there's not much to dislike about even the more routine offerings. But even food twice this good and half this expensive wouldn't fully explain the crowds here. The dining room, which accommodates about 90, with additional patio seating, is first-come, first-seated, and business is turned away on weekends. Open only three months, Facci is a big hit down here, a major one.
The tons of people who live in this indeterminate area have some good dining options up in Columbia or Ellicott City, not to mention farther away in Baltimore and Washington, but not so many (really, hardly any) places that aren't chains in their town. And until Facci came along, was it even a town?
It's Beautiful Downtown Facciville now, and it turned out … well, this is so easy to see in hindsight … that a place like this was exactly what people wanted and needed. This used to be a Pasta Blitz, the kind of place typical for the area, with good food and zero atmosphere. It's a comfortably chic place, with the rustic palette, earthy surfaces, and glowing open kitchen familiar from the bigger and more established upscale chains. But it flows nicely, and, rare for these parts, there was actually some activity at the bar.
Facci is spirited and lively, maybe too lively, with a blaring soundtrack of brassy pop music that only makes sense when you realize that the music is all Italian. And on a recent Tuesday night, couples were here, but lots of families, too, some with teenagers and some with older folks, and everyone looked to be having a great time.
And everyone seemed to get a visit from the same attractive and gregarious woman who, it turns out, is Facci's general manager, Lisa Passalacqua, who will tell you that she approached the Palma-Espositos, whose cooking she loved, with the plan, a vision really, of a place like Facci that would draw the kinds of crowds it is drawing in reality now. In New Jersey, where Passalacqua comes from, she'll tell you, every town had a good restaurant like this one so people didn't have to drive five towns over for dinner.
This Passalacqua, she's something. You might forget halfway through your meal that Facci is also supposed to be a wine bar. It seems only halfway committed to this, but no one seems to mind. We didn't mind all that much that dessert was served with our dirty dinner plates still on the table.
But you won't forget the personal attention you got from Lisa Passalacqua, who seems so happy when you order something she likes, too. Come to think of it, she bought our dessert, which is probably why we didn't mind the dirty dinner plates. I don't mean to diminish the chef's accomplishments by celebrating hers, but, the personal touch, it's everything.
But yes, absolutely you must have the meatballs, served up handsomely, with warm flatbread. And there's a genuine and fresh peppery kick to the mussels fra diavolo, although maybe the mussels and sauce don't feel fully integrated. A calamari appetizer is good, but I never was sure what the two sauces were that came with it — we called them ketchup and mustard. A platter with Italian cheeses, pears and strawberries felt a little chaotic, too, a bit unresolved. There are a few things like this that make Facci feel rushed, but it's not meant to be fine dining.
I really did flip for the Vongole Bianchetto, which used thick pappardelle noodles to support a carousel of good clams and a finely worked out garlic and white wine sauce. The grace notes — thin strips of fried zucchini. Also very good, the Orecchiette Vittorino, ear-shaped pasta with sausage, red peppers, fennel sausage and broccoli rabe a bit overdone.
Because there are these and other temping pasta dishes here and a few veal and chicken entrees, too, you might not think you have room for pizza. But make room. Pizzas here are the modest 10-inch size, which makes them a nice shared second course. The one we tried, a margarita style topped with arugula and wild mushrooms, was beautiful.
And try to leave room for the zabaglione, just divine, or the homemade gelato, equally so. Lisa Passalacqua wants you to have the Nutella pizza. That's up to you.
7530 Montpelier Road, Fulton
Daily for lunch and dinner
[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]