Amid the gently rolling countryside near the western edge of Harford County, a cream-colored, reasonably Tuscan-evoking building makes an unexpected appearance, located across the street from a much more ordinary-looking drugstore. It’s home to Acappella Italian Restaurant, an unassuming, come-as-you-are kind of place that makes you feel welcome and serves up some very tasty food.
The emphasis here is on Italian comfort food, not haute cuisine, and the goal seems to be getting it to your table quickly.
Within seconds of settling into one of the extra-tall-sided booths in the subtly lit dining room, a basket of still-steaming rolls arrived at the table — not trendy, wheat-y, nutty rolls, but the old-fashioned, white-flour type that we all grew up with and can still enjoy when snooty folks aren’t looking. They went quite well with the lightly spiced olive oil that accompanied the bread.
We took much longer figuring out what appetizers we wanted than the kitchen took to prepare them.
In short order, we were happily digging into a dish called shrimp Pompeii — sauteed crustaceans with a crunchy exterior that revealed a tender inside, while the flavor from a coating of red pepper and garlic aiolo gave each bite a neat little tingle. Also finding favor were deftly fried slices of eggplant and zucchini, dubbed here “Acappella chips.”
(The persnickety part of me wishes that the restaurant’s name followed proper Italian. There should be a space between the “a” and “cappella” — it’s the two-word term for unaccompanied singing. But I guess restaurateurs are entitled to poetic license.)
Having spotted the pizza nook next to the kitchen, where a gentleman in front of the brick oven tossed fresh dough in the traditional manner, we just had to add a pizza to our first course.
The Margherita came closer to a plain cheese pizza, offering a fine tomato sauce, more of a hint than a firm presence of mozzarella, and a few basil leaves strewn on top. Still, it proved highly respectable, thanks to the vibrant flavor and the quality of the crisp-edged dough.
The star entree turned out to be crab ravioli. The pasta pillows were al dente, the filling abundant and fresh, the rose sauce delectably snappy.
That sauce was a little too thickly applied, however, a misstep likewise made with an order of veal scaloppini. In this case, a piccata sauce had a nice richness that would have registered with half the amount. More disappointing was the mushy texture of the meat. (The veal can be also be ordered with a marsala or parmesan treatment.)
That said, there was a standout on that plate of scaloppini — fresh-made fettuccine, served perfectly al dente and tossed with just enough Alfredo sauce to deliver intense flavor.
We also chose that excellent fettuccine for a simple, pleasant pasta entree of sauteed vegetables lightly tossed in olive oil.
Two made-in-house desserts capped the meal beautifully — a well-crafted cannoli, its pastry airy and flavorful, the filling not too sweet; and irresistible scoops of caramel and chocolate gelato.
The bar had its role in making the the dinner so pleasant, turning out a smooth and hearty Manhattan, as well as gin and tonic sizable enough to satisfy three thirsts. A thoughtful wine list also came in handy, yielding a fruity red from the Varvaglione winery in southern Italy.
Tablecloths would give the dining room a lift. So would a policy of replacing flatware after the first course (we were asked to reuse ours). But those were minor matters, given the overall appeal of the food and exceptionally congenial, attentive service.
Acappella Italian Restaurant
2402 Pleasantville Road, Fallston
Prices: Appetizers $10.95 to $14.95; entrees $17.95 to $24.95
Ambience: The dining area has a homey look and feeling; tall booths around the edges of the room are especially appealing.
Service: Supple, informative, and friendly as the day is long.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]