Strapazza has appeal for wide variety of pizza-and-pasta lovers



Where: 10-12 Allegheny Ave., Towson.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: Italian dishes, sandwiches.

Non-smoking section? No.

Call: 296-5577

** 1/2 If Strapazza is crazy, as its name suggests, it's crazy in the proverbially foxy manner. While almost everybody likes Italian food, it's rare to find a place that caters to (just to name a few): preppy Towsonites, hip downtown types, dressy uptown types boisterous little kids, tete-a-teters, foodies looking for an experience and college students looking for a cheap nosh. The Towson cafe's Neapolitan owners have cast their demographic nets wide, and drawn in an audience as diverse as it is devoted.

Part casual hangout, part soigne cafe, Strapazza has a split personality that seems to have worked out well for everyone concerned. With its granite-look tabletops, neon, black wire chairs, glass block and young, black-clad waitresses with seriously Big Hair, it looks like a neighborhood pizza joint as imagined by Fellini. But Strapazza's essential pizza-jointness shines through the Euroswank. A relaxed atmosphere and a breezy, inexpensive menu of "pizzabilities" and "pastabilities" make this a restaurant that sets everybody at ease.

We hit a few disappointments early on. Mozzarella capresa ($4.25), one of those cool mozzarella salads that are so appealing in steamy weather, had unfortunately been made with cheese that, while obviously fresh, hadn't a speck of taste. The dTC promised basil was an inadequate sprinkling of the dried stuff.

More of the mozzarella turned up on the "natural gourmet" pizza ($7.95), where it sat, raft-like, atop the molten goo of the sauce. Still, I had some affection for this pizza, which resembled the Grotto pies of long-ago Rehoboth vacations. (And it was certainly lots better than the $1.30 slice of Chicago-style pizza, a mere smear of tomato and cheese on a fluffy Bisquick-like crust.)

Our first "pastability" was penne alla arrabiata ($5.15), a simple but classy dish which married the penne, a slender, diagonally-cut pasta tube, with well-spiced marinara and a Parmesan of distinction. Penne from heaven? Not quite, but satisfying. Also accomplished was the linguini alla mare chiara (at $8.95 the most expensive dish on the menu). Its marinara sauce was well-stocked with seafood -- most of which was calamari, but that's fine by me -- and the portion was generous.

A side order of sauteed broccoli ($1.95) had been burned in spots, but had an interesting grilled taste, and garlic butter and a sprinkling of hot red peppers gave it unexpected dash.

The two interesting desserts, tirami su and black-and-white espresso cake, were not in stock, and the remaining cannoli was, as expected, from Vaccaro's. Strapazza really ought to consider adding a few more "pastrybilities" to the menu.

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