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Italian around Baltimore

I'm sort of on an Italian kick. I use to pre-judge Little Italy as being expensive and not worth it, but since I've had some good experiences at Amicci's I have regained faith. Last weekend my Fiance and I ate at La Tavola which I found had a high rating for food on the Zagat site. The food was ok - they had lots of fish-dishes which I was not really in the mood for - maybe it's because La Tavola is Northern Italian - I was looking for old school food like lasagna and baked ziti and the like which is what comes to mind when I think of Italian. I had lasagna and my Fiance had some kind of pasta with white sauce. I am very tempted to try Sabatino's - even though everyone tells me their food is not good like it once was and it's a tourist trap. Sabatino's seems like such a Baltimore institution and I almost feel left out because I've never eaten there.

Before I became a Foodie, I remember getting a lot of enjoyment out of simple, family type Italian places such as Squire's in Dunalk and Fazzini's in Cockeysville. My Fiance was not as passionate about Squires as I was. I remember eating at Fazzini's in Cockeysville a bunch of years ago and I enjoyed every dish I had. The Owner would come out into the dining room and chat with patrons. I was told they are still there - it's probably been 8 or 9 years since I've been up that way.

The guy who cuts my hair suggested a place on Holabird Ave in Dundalk called Vinny's. I have been reluctant to try it because it does not get recognition from Zagat or the attention of some of the local Critics. Maybe I should try it anyway.

Another consideration is to try some of the really "top shelf" places rated by Zagat and Baltimore Magazine such as Trattoria Alberto in Glenn Burnie, Boccaccio, La Scala or Aldo's. I don't really mind spending $150 on dinner for two - I just wonder if it might be lost on me since I crave garlic bread, lasagna, and ziti when I'm in the mood for Italian as opposed to whole fish and other fancy gourmet dishes.

When I was a little kid I had a Great Aunt (a little old Italian lady) who would wake up at the crack of dawn with her daughter every Sunday and slave away all morning preparing the family dinner. She would make things like hand-made ravioli and pizza bread. It was un-pretentious and all of us agreed that it was the best around. Where can I find that?

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  1. I have been to Vinnys twice in the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed are the prices which have obviously gone up. That said, the food is decent red-sauce Italian. Give it a shot, I like it much better then Fazzinis.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hon

      Vinny's may still have a piano player Friday nights til 8 or 8:30. A nice romantic touch in an imaginatively decorated space. Food is okay service very friendly and the piano makes it a place where you don't go just for the food.

    2. It would seem to me that if homestyle Italian was what you were craving, La Tavola might not have been the most apt choice. If I'm craving homey Italian i usually hit Chiapperelli's, their ravioli's are hand made on Mondays and that, as welll as Osso Bucco and their meat sauce are the things i crave when in the mood for Italian.

      1. Pasta Plus in Laurel. Less expensive than Little Italy. Fresh pasta, but also your basics. I can't recommend it highly enough.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rfried

          What rfried said...Pasta Plus rocks. You can go for the standards, I go there for their specials.


        2. Sabatino's is worth it for the right stuff- only get the old school pasta type dishes. My favorite is baked rigatoni with meatsauce- melts in your mouth! and of course they are famous for the bookmaker salad/dressing. One nice thing I've mentioned on CH before is that you can get 1/2 portions of many dishes, and they are still large for less $. So, it's not too pricey for you to try out!

          and if you're ever bored or venturous, drive to the Italian market in Philly for even better old school dishes than LI.

          1. Bocaccio's is the best Italian resto in Balto. Having said that, I add that there is no such thing as "Italian" food. The cooking in the North is very different esp Venice, (no tomatoes) than in the South. Most people who think of "authentic" Italian are thinking of the red sauce places they went to when they were young. Those places, like Chiapparelli's, do not exist in Italy (except in some tourist areas).

            1 Reply
            1. re: tartuffe

              For my money, Bocaccio's is the only above-average restaurant in Little Italy. The food is great and, though relatively expensive, has a homemade feeling and taste to it. The dining room is rather opulent in an old world sort of way. The only good thing about Sabatino's is that it stays open after midnight. It's good if you've got a real intense Italian craving in the wee hours. But the food is pretty lousy. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Sotta Sopra. Great Italian food, but also a bit on the costly side.

            2. I'd also remind you that a lot of the fun of being a chowhound is trying the places that may not get a lot of press, but can turn out to be wonderful. I'm always willing to experiment. Sometimes it doesn't work out too well, other times it's a revelation.

              1. Thanks people. Those are lots of good recomendations. And again, it's not that I have anything against haughty quisine such as Tersiguel's, Chameleon Cafe or Antrim 1844 - I love that food - it's just that there is a time and place for that and lately I've been craving simpler dishes like lasagna, stuffed shells and managotti - even spaghetti and meatballs.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                  After reading on this board about Giovanna's on Harford Road just inside the city, I went last night for their pick-up only lasagna special. It was fabulous and sounds like just what you are craving. The lasagna was a gooey, cheesy, tomatoey feast...served with four slices of garlic bread, and a large salad. It was so good I want to go again tonight! For $7.75 you can't beat it, but take cash...they don't do plastic! They also have spagetti and meatballs, veal, chicken parm, subs and pizza...the place smells wonderful and the people are nice. A few small tables inside, and a few outside.

                  1. re: crosby_p

                    Glad you tried it. I hope others will. Great homemade sauce and great value. I notice finishing touches are being made to the patio beside the grape arbor. I have taken a bottle of wine and eaten at the outside tables.

                2. Try Bella Napoli in Pasadena

                  1. I LOVE Sotto Sopra - I don't think it's overpriced at all - I believe they are still open for lunch on the weekends.

                    Also - for a very special occasion - Aldo's is fantastic. Not the typical Little Italy place, very nice.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: savvytraveler

                      Sotta Sopra is very good and open for lunch. The menu on the weekend, however, has been limited.

                    2. What about Velleggia's? The owners daughter was my intern a few years back and told me that her dad's restaurant was the best Italian place in charm city.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: MFoxM

                        Would you trust the owner's daughter? Wouldn't she be a bit biased?

                        La Scala on Eastern Ave.

                        1. re: toro head

                          Good point. lol. Guess it's not top of the list.

                      2. If you are looking for red sauce dishes I would recommend that you venture to Sykesville or Timmonium and try Libatores. The Timmonium site is more upscale but the food is great in wither location.