Supano's Prime Steakhouse Seafood & Pasta may be one of Baltimore's best-kept secrets. The Inner Harbor restaurant has been at its Water Street location for almost 10 years, but many people have never heard of it.
"We're tucked away," said Terry Coffman, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Olga.
As soon as we walked in from the downtown alley, we felt as if we had stepped into the Rat Pack era. The low-lit room was bedecked in ornate wood, tin ceilings, brick walls and, sure enough, a big screen with crooner Frank Sinatra belting out tunes.
Black-and-white photos of other old-time stars like Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin adorn the dining room. The tablecloths are red vinyl, and the menus are as big as wooden cutting boards.
We expected someone to call us "doll face" at any minute. But the wait staff was professional and polite, including an engaging host who stopped by every table to chat.
The restaurant offers a variety of global wines by the bottle and glass, as well as a selection of cocktails and local and imported beer.
The food leans toward Italian, although thick steaks, seared in a 1,600-degree oven, and seafood are available, as the restaurant's name indicates. "Miss Bettie" Peterson is in the kitchen, cooking pasta, soups, sauces and tiramisu as she has been doing since the 1970s.
Supano's history goes back further than its current address. Coffman bought Velleggia's, founded in 1937 in Little Italy, in 2005. The restaurant closed in 2008, and Coffman opened Velleggia's on Water Street that year.
He renamed the restaurant Supano's in 2010. If you were a fan of Velleggia's — and we were — you'll enjoy the restaurant's hearty, filling fare.
The clams alla Franco were a beautiful beginning. The plump seafood nuggets were dressed in their shells with a generous amount of crabmeat cloaked in a flavorful marinara sauce.
We also indulged in terrific bruschetta topped with vine-ripe tomato cubes, and a beautiful house balsamic salad that included romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and black olives, glazed with a tangy vinaigrette. It was large enough to share.
We really liked the sausage-and-peppers starter, a satisfying medley of its key ingredients bobbing invitingly in a complex, aromatic tomato sauce.
We wanted to see if the restaurant lived up to its "steakhouse" designation, and it did.
Dino's prime rib-eye steak was a behemoth. The 16-ounce hunk of beef was succulent, delicious and pricy at $49. You can upgrade to a 22-ounce slab for $64. There are no sides with the dish, so we paired it with an adequate bowl of mashed potatoes.
It was probably subliminal after watching Sinatra's screen performance across the room, but I ordered the chicken for the Chairman (his nickname). The tender chicken breast, sautéed in a balanced white-wine sauce, was enhanced with artichoke hearts and mushrooms, and hit all the right notes.
We added sautéed spinach for an extra charge. The leafy vegetable was overcooked, but we liked its underlying garlic tinge.
The decadent baked manicotti featured two pasta tubes, oozing luscious ricotta cheese and covered with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. We paired it with three rotund meatballs sitting in more sauce.
We ended our meal with traditional Italian desserts. The feather-light tiramisu offered more custard than cake, but we liked its creaminess. The two cannolis featured shells that were pleasantly crackly and stuffed with sweetened, whipped ricotta that spilled onto the plate.
The restaurant's first floor, with a dining room a few steps up from the bar area, isn't the only component of the building. A downstairs level houses a sports bar. And in mid-September, Coffman is opening a second-floor dining room and bar, along with a private club for the business community on the third floor.
The restaurant wasn't empty on our dinnertime visit. It was populated mostly by out-of-towners, who seem to come on the recommendation of area hotels. (We gleaned this information from the conversations at neighboring tables.)
I'm not sure why Supano's isn't on more people's radar locally. It's time to get the word out.
Supano’s Prime Steakhouse Seafood & Pasta
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 110 Water St., Inner Harbor
Contact: 410-986-4445, supanossteakhouse.com
Kitchen open: 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily
Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$16.95; entrees, $12.95-$64.
Food: Italian, steak and seafood
Noise/TVs: The restaurant was lively but not obnoxious; six TVs in the lower-level sports bar.
Service: Our waiter was competent, though he seemed withdrawn and didn't engage in much conversation.
Parking: Street parking or public parking lot
Special diets: Can accommodate.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]