Restaurant review

Big flavor at Grano Pasta Bar's second home in Federal Hill

For The Baltimore Sun
Grano Pasta Bar's Federal Hill location is a tiny slice of pasta heaven.

Grano Pasta Bar has been mixing and matching pastas and sauces in Hampden since 2008. Now, the Italian noodle shop has opened a second location in Federal Hill.

"We came to the area and saw a lot of activity," said Julie Padilla, who owns the eateries with longtime restaurateur Gino Troia. "We thought this would be a good place for a Grano Pasta Bar."

The setup is similar in both spots. There is limited seating — about 11 comfy orange stools at the new place — and a menu that allows diners to create their own dishes.

Pastas, complete with an illustration of each on the menu, include strands like linguine and fettucine and shapes like farfalle (bowties) and fusilli (spirals).

There are 11 sauces to consider. One is a traditional Bolognese with tomatoes, ground beef, prosciutto and a heavenly soffrito of celery, carrots and onions. Another is an emerald-green pesto with fresh basil leaves — perhaps one of the herbs growing on a ledge in the restaurant — garlic, olive oil and walnuts.

As you can imagine, delectable, heady aromas fill the tiny storefront.

While you may be tempted to order carryout because of Grano's diminutive size, I recommend you bring a bottle of wine to this BYOB and grab a seat. The friendly staff will open your bottle for a $3 corkage fee and pour the contents into stemmed glassware. Then you can relax to the tunes of George Ezra, Lana Del Ray and the Strumbellas while digging into the heaping platters of food.

For now, you're in pasta heaven.

Scene & Decor The sweet space has a cheerful glow with orange sherbet-colored walls. Baskets of bread, a metal colander displayed with an Italian cookbook and potted herbs and flowers give it a homey feel. Bright tangerine stools line up in front of small counters, one next to the open kitchen.

Appetizers We started our meal with a delicious Caesar salad ($7, $3.50 for a half portion). The mound of romaine was strewn with shreds of crisp red radicchio and dressed with a creamy, eggless dressing that was bold with garlic. Instead of croutons, corn triangles gave the salad a nice crunch. You can add anchovies or olives for $2. We also tried the insalata verde salad ($6, $3 for a half). The baby field greens, topped with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives and apple slices, glistened with a wonderful apple vinaigrette.

Entrees The pasta dishes were stellar. The linguine mussels ($14) featured twirly noodles alive with a slick combo of olive oil, garlic, white wine and lemon, buried beneath a heap of plump, ebony mussels. The thoughtful staff brought us a bowl for the shells. We chose the spicy puttanesca sauce ($10) to dress up our fettuccine. The al dente noodles were a great pairing for the heady melange of olive oil, garlic, capers, anchovies and tomatoes. We won't get into why the sauce is named after "ladies of pleasure." Let's just say it's hot stuff.

Drinks There are complimentary water and bottled drinks for sale. Grano is BYOB and charges a $3 corkage fee.

Service After you order your food at a service counter, the friendly staff brings it to you when it is ready. They also clear the dishes when you are finished.

Dessert You may think you're tired of tiramisu, but this one ($6), made on the premises, will change your mind. It is an ethereal, cloudlike creation of delicate ladyfingers, espresso, rum and mascarpone cheese, heavily dusted with a rich cocoa powder. The two mini chocolate flans ($4) — the size of petit fours — were a decadent, worthwhile indulgence. Made with Belgian chocolate, the fudge-like morsels were drizzled with melted caramel and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

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Grano Pasta Bar

Backstory: Co-owners Gino Troia and Julie Padilla thought Hampden's Grano Pasta Bar, with its mix-and-match menu of pastas and sauces, would be a good fit for Federal Hill. The two chefs also operate Grano Emporio in Hampden.

Signature dish: Linguine mussels

TVs: No TVs

Where: 1043 S. Charles St., Federal Hill

Contact: 410-962-5300, facebook.com/granopastabar

Open: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Not accepted

Bottom line: If you're on the Federal Hill side of the harbor, definitely stop by the neighborhood's new BYOB restaurant, Grano Pasta Bar. Snag a stool, bring a bottle of wine and enjoy your own pasta creation.

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