So close and yet so far. That could be the theme for the Cafe D'Italia, an unpretentious carryout that is separated only by President Street from the savory pleasures of Little Italy.
The cafe sits in the ground floor of Scarlett Place and has a few tables inside and a few more on a nice brick patio with a distant view of the harbor.
With a location like this, it's natural to expect a little gem of a lunch counter where homemade dishes and subs served on crusty breads draw a daily crowd. So it's a bit disappointing to find that Cafe D'Italia is a pale imitation of an authentic Italian deli/lunch spot.
All of our food was perfectly edible and inoffensive. But nothing was particularly good or memorable either.
The best entree was a turkey sub ($4.80). While the cafe bills its subs as "overstuffed," ours was a modest affair. It did feature real, roasted turkey, not the processed stuff, and some tangy hot peppers on a fresh sub roll.
Meat ravioli ($6.25) was mildly spiced, and fairly overwhelmed by a nondescript tomato sauce. The lasagna ($6.99) arrived just warm, and one bite revealed unmelted shredded mozzarella. The staff very pleasantly reheated the dish, but the entire presentation didn't quite hold together, and conjured unfortunate images of cafeteria fare.
A request for soup proved untimely. Although it is on the menu, we were told soup is served beginning in October. Dessert items on the menu, including cheesecake and rice pudding, were also unavailable. There is a freezer full of ice- cream sandwiches and the like, and a few pastries courtesy of Sara Lee sat on the counter.
The cafe's interior has a cozy feel, and those waiting for their orders can amuse themselves by examining autographed photos of mystery celebrities. Just who, for example, is Brad Tassell?
Cafe D'Italia is an easy walk from the Columbus Center, Little Italy and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Parking, however, is anything but easy. On-street spots are rare, and the new Little Italy garage up the street charges $5 for an hour.
Waiting area: **
Where: 250 S. President St., downtown
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 9 p.m. Saturday
Prices: Pasta, salads and calzones from $4 to $6.99; pizza from $5 to $8.99; no credit cards.