Italian Gardens for years has been a stalwart feature of the Shops at Kenilworth, the mall that is the true spiritual heart of Towson, with its lacrosse and soccer stores, preppy clothing shops and educational toy outlet.
With its subdued, almost moody, lighting, Italian Gardens aspires to allow patrons to forget for a moment that they are in a small suburban shopping mall.
There is a separate sit-down restaurant, but we visited the carryout operation, which faces out into the mall itself. A small seating area has both booths and tables and is decorated with interesting black-and-white photographs and a large aquarium that you would expect to find in an upscale Chinese restaurant.
Behind the carryout counter, a small pizza oven cooks pizzas that go through on a slowly moving conveyor belt.
Service was pleasant and reasonably quick. All of our food ranged from adequate to good, although at the prices Italian Gardens charges (a grilled cheese sandwich for $4.25, for instance), we expected something a bit more special.
The restaurant offers both thin- and thick-crust pies. We preferred the thin, which was chewy and not loaded with cheese. Our small pizza ($10.40) came with some thin, quite spicy slices of sausage. A thick-crust pizza ($9.95) featured a good crust, too, but was layered with a thick coating of mozzarella - too thick in our book.
The official cheese-steak taster had his way with a cheese steak ($6.50) doused in fried onions and ketchup and served on a fresh roll. It was not quite the congealed creation he has learned to love, but he didn't complain. Baked ravioli ($10.50) appeared to be freshly made, stuffed with ground beef and served in onion-laced tomato sauce and covered with more cheese - all in all, a decent entree.
The grilled-chicken salad ($5.95) was laced with goodies, including cauliflower, black olives, pickles, hot peppers and slices of grilled, slightly tired chicken. Side orders included fries ($1.75) and garlic bread ($1.75), both of which vanished quickly from the table.
We would certainly go back to Italian Gardens but would probably stick with the thin-crust pizza and cheese steaks.
There wasn't much to choose from for dessert. We picked chocolate cheesecake ($3.50), which was tall, dark and handsome. It tasted pretty good, too.
There's plenty of parking in the mall's lot.
Waiting area: **
Where: Shops at Kenilworth, 800 Kenilworth Drive, Towson
Web site: www.italian gardens.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $4.25 to $16.95; credit cards accepted
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *