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Cafe Gia & the the meeting of the 'hounds (Balto)

Italian food is never high on my list. Actually, it’s never on my list at all. If people ask what I’m in the mood for, it’s never Italian. No particular reason, it’s just Italian food never really thrilled me. It’s a different strokes for different folks, variety is the spice of life, to each her/his own type of thing, whatever.

So, it was a bit odd, to say that least, that I was even interested in, let alone found my way, to Café Gia in Little Italy, a place recommended by kimmer1850 on the New Baltimore Routine thread.

Anyway, I find a spot right outside this cute little place on Eastern Avenue at the corner of High Street. It’s cute inside, too. I mean, cute with a capital “C.” It verges on too cute, but manages, somehow to just feel comfortably instead of overwhelming, well, cute.

There were a few tables of people—blue-collar workers and business people—eating in the downstairs dining room, and definitely a party upstairs. I waited for a few seconds and was invited to come and sit at the counter. (I adore lunch counters, btw, so much warmer than eating at the bar!)

It didn’t take long to realize a few things. One, this is a real-live Baltimore place. The kind of place where one immediately feels comfortable, in fact, it doesn’t take long to feel like “family.” (The ‘mother,’ who was working behind the counter, kisses her fingers and touches your hand. And, it’s not forced, just warm and friendly.) And, two, it’s the kind of unpretentious yet non-divey type of place that I always wish there were more of.

So, I get the one page menu, check it out a bit, and say, I’ve heard that the eggplant parm is very good. The woman also eating at the counter chimes in to say its great. (Talking to fellow diners is one of the reasons that eating at the counter is so wonderful.) A short conversation ensues, and who should this fellow counter diner be? None other than fellow ‘hound, kimmer1850! We went through a few rounds of ‘this is TOO funny’ and settled down to talk food.

Anyway, on to the sandwich: It’s on good Italian bread, with eggplant that’s very thinly sliced and lightly breaded and lightly fried, piled on like so much deli meat. The cheese is minimal, and the sauce is also minimal, and tastes, well, just sort of sunny. (I guess that if I actually knew about Italian food, I’d have a name for this particular kind of tomato sauce.) At some point, I marveled at how beautiful the sandwich looked, with those lovely layers of thin eggplant slices with a bit of red from the sauce. It’s served with a teeny tiny house salad.

This sandwich tastes so unfamiliar that it takes a few bites to warm up to it. What’s so very odd is that its eggplant parm but is really light, no drowning in cheese and sauce and think fried slices. In fact, I had planned to eat only half the sandwich and bring the other half home, but something about it had me slivering my pre-doggie bag half, until about two bites were left to bring home. I’m looking forward to heating this up, and having another go at it. Very interesting, indeed. And, this culinary treat came for the grand price of $7.95.

And, thanks again to kimmer1850 for the rec! Again, I hope you can join us on our Charm City chow yahoo group. And, despite never being in the mood for Italian, I will definitely be back to try out more. I have my eye on the Italian sausage sub.

Now some more details:

Although Kimmer1850 mentioned the hours in the other thread, I’ll also try to recount them here. Café Gia is open Monday through Saturday for lunch, and Thur-Sat for dinner. Saturday they are also open for breakfast.

The ‘mother’ told me to tell people that the best time to check out the place (or ‘get the full experience’ in her words, which I guess means being able to chat with the wonderful folks who work there) would be after about 1 pm during the week, with the best night for dinner definitely being Thursday.

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  1. I have been wanting to check out this place, what other things did they have on the menu? Do they sell wine?

    1 Reply
    1. re: hon

      It's a BYO place.

      I was just paying attention to the sandwiches. In addition to eggplant parm, and the Italian sausage, they also had some sort of Italian pulled pork thing, IIRC. Also, soup/s and salads. I really didn't look too closely at the entrees, but they do have things with pasta. But, I'm bet kimmer1850 can fill you in.

    2. Thanks for the report and the hours! That explains my difficulty: I had stopped by for breakfast one Thursday, dinner on a Monday, and lunch on Sunday. No lie. Do I have bad timing, or what??

      2 Replies
      1. re: charmedgirl

        I have had dinner there a few times. One time bracciole and another time linguini with scallops and shrimp. Grilled ceasar salad was good. As I mentioned in a different thread I enjoyed the ambience. Gia's mom is very friendly and the chef is quite enthusiastic. Mom says a Russian friend originally from St Petersburg is responsible for the artwork. SInce my wife and I frequently split an entree and an appetizer for dinner I can't really complain about there $7.50 corkage fee. I haven't tried lunch yet. The egglant parmesan sounds good.

        1. re: charmedgirl

          Well, now you know, so you can go. They have been extending their hours in stages, so not to bite off more than they can chew. ;-)

          And, an update on the doggie-bagged portion. I heated it up in the toaster over for Mr. Baltoellen who exclaimed: I don't even like eggplant, but this is amazing! (And, for some reason, it was missing the cheese and the sauce!)

        2. Just an FYI... the 'mother' really is the mom (also named Gia). It truly is family owned, originally from Sicily. The place is wonderful, and really does have a cozy atmosphere. Wish I worked downtown so I could get there for lunch more often.

          1. Hey All!!! (And especially Baltoellen)
            The menu is simnple and well thought out. I, too, have tried the braciole and fouind it rich and filling. I will admit that it was somewhat salty but then I don't use much salt. I also really enjoyed the Italian sausage sub with peppers and onions. Spicy and with just the right amount of sauce. If you go for Saturday breakfast (or even Friday ) ask what the special french toast is...trust me you're bound to like it!

            I gotta say that I am tickled pink to finally meet a fellow CH'er and put a face to a name! Here's to meeting more of you.

            1. Based on Ellen's rec I went there for lunch today. I had the Italian sausage sandwich. It was fairly spicy, minimal sauce with thin sliced peppers and onions -- just enough so as not to overwhelm it. Loved the salad of field greens and tomato with a very good house vinagrette.

              I also ate at the counter but unfortunately there wasn't anyone else to talk to except one guy yakking on his cell phone the entire time. That's ok -- my mouth was full.

              I also agree with Ellen about the ambience. It toes the line of too precious, but barely manages to avoid it. Sadly, mom wasn't behind the counter today.

              Good place, yummy sandwich. Recommended.