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Baltimore - Little Italy question

I'm being treated to a dinner and tasked with finding a few options, while I've made a shortlist from here and other sources, given the abundance of choices within a few blocks (I'm always able to find something appealing and it being not on my dime) I have to ask, is it common to post menus out front so we can go by whim/instinct once in the neighborhood? some cities do, some don't.

I have to admit I've never spent more than a few hours in Baltimore for a work meeting with a no-fun boss.


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  1. Yes, you'll see menus posted in front of most. I wish I could recommend the two favorites that we have been to, but I have completely forgotten their names. Just alot yourself enough time to wander a bit, because they really aren't all along the same block. You do have to go around a few blocks to cover a lot of ground. I've never had a bad Little Italy dinner.

    1. i love the salad at chiapparellis (or something like that), it is incredible — tons of feta cheese, garlicky pungent dressing, they are famous for it — but the rest of the food isn't the best of the area, so if you're not big on salad don't bother. we have been to rocco's thrice and really enjoyed ourselves each time. so you might want to check that out. there are more popular restaurants there but i haven't been to them so can't speak for it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: littlew1ng

        Chip's salad haas parmagian cheese, chopped hard boiled egg, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and chopped (as well as sliced0 onion--no feta cheese to be found.

        But, you are quite right, apart from the salad, the remainder of Chiapperelli's menu is uninspired.

        You might want to consider Fells Point--there is Mezze, Kali's Court, Meli, Black Olive, Fin, Miss Irene's, etc. There are lots of bars and downscale places to entertain you and distract you from a lackluster boss. FoiGras

      2. There are far better italian restaurants in Baltimore than those found in Little italy.
        I won't bother with names though if you're committed to going there.

        3 Replies
        1. re: michael4ny

          Thanks for the suggestions, looking at the online menus I'm sure there is more adventurous Italian to be found, but the locale (and a certain level of tradition/stodginess) was the parameter.

          1. re: hill food

            michael4ny we are totally with you. We stay far away from little italy Just curious if your list is our list. What are your favs outside of little italy

            1. re: sas

              I'm sure there are a number of others out there but the first two that come to my mind are Sotto Sopra and Sammy's both on Charles. I realize they're nothing like each other. Sotto Sopra being a little more upscale and esoteric but they're both good in their own way. And I haven't been to Cinghale (Tony and Cindy's place) yet but I'm looking forward to tryng it. Their menu is somewhat similar to one or two places in Manhattan run by Mario Batalli which I've enjoyed in the past.

        2. If you are "stuck" with dining in Little Italy--and are being "treated"), I highly suggest going to Da Mimmo's. Order the veal chop (which used to be the standard by which all others were measured). Also, the lobster dish (forgot the approximate name--perhaps, thermidore), is succulent.

          Aldo's is also a bit off of the standard red sauced dishes offered in the Little Italy establishments. It's a lovely restaurant--too bad you aren't interested in a romantic atmosphere. I've had delicious lamb chops and osso bucco there. Excellent wine selections.

          So, if you have to dine in Little Italy and can't make it over to Fells Point, those are my humble suggestions. FoiGras

          5 Replies
          1. re: FoiGras

            I am totally floored by the Da Mimmos' post ... my wife and I ate there for Valentines Day and I had the house specialty veal chop. It was nearly inedible, served with pretension and exorbitantly overpriced at $55. The side serving of pasta looked and tasted amazingly like Chef-boy-ardi. I definitely advise all diners to avoid this overpriced and overbearing establishment.

            1. re: cantonite

              Ditto on avoiding Da Mimmo. Horrible quality at outrageous prices. You're better off at La Tavola or even Della Notte. Della Notte is over the top in terms of decor and style (roman busts everywhere, I feel like I'm in a Mel Brooks movie) but I had fabulous gnocchi there once upon a time. I've had some good meals at La Tavola, too, way back when.

              The one time I went to Aldo's, I couldn't understand why they were in Zagat's and raved about. Yes, the service was uber-European, but boy was the food average. And the fish dishes had sat in the window and were cold.

              Search this board for Little Italy, you will find many other recs. If anything, you can get a good consensus of what places to definitely avoid.

              And yes, you will find menus posted throughout, so you can wander about prior to choosing.

                1. re: venera

                  One thing about Della Notte is that they have an amazing wine list, with lots of older vintages, and really reasonable pricing. If my boss were paying, I might go just to drink vino and forget about the food entirely (well, maybe just to line my stomach).

                  1. re: venera

                    I disagree. Aldo's has exceptional food. I have tried the following dishes:
                    Colossal Lump Crab Cocktail

                    Caprese Tower

                    Salad of Sweet Red Beets, Mixed Greens,Crumbled Gorgonzola Toasted Ennis Walnuts,Champagne Vinaigrette

                    Tender Baby Spinach Leaves, Toasted Walnuts,Thompson Raisins,Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese, Creamy Champagne Vinaigrette

                    Porcini Agnollotti tossed in Italian Black Truffle Butter

                    Fresh Orecchiette Pasta, Broccoli Rabe, Housemade Italian Sausage and Parmigiano Reggiano

                    Fettuccine, Diced Maine Lobster, Tomato-Cream
                    Rosé Sauce

                    Aldo’s Ossobuco • Slow-Braised Veal Shank, Porcini Mushroom Risotto

                    Aldo’s “Tournedos Rossini” Grilled Prime Filet Mignon, Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras Italian Black Truffle and Porcini Mushroom Sauce with Four Cheese Risotto

                    Double-Cut Prime Wisconsin Veal Chop,“Milanese Style” • Butterflied, Pounded Thin, Breaded and Pan-Fried, Tomato Concassé

                    Lobster Bolognese

                    Eggplant Parmagiana

                    Sage Wild Boar Pappardelle

                    Meatball Appetizer

                    Gnocchi in Rose Cream Sauce

                    Only a couple of these have not been to die for.
                    Ask for Jim, he is a phenomenal server.

                    306 South High Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

              1. hill food: Not fancy, but I've always enjoyed the times and meals I've had there: Amicci's. Friendly, happy, good food, not pretentious. Seafood primavera and eggplant parmesan I've had there and can't complain. Maybe too loud if you are looking for intimacy or quiet client/vendor discussion.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Montebello

                  it's not a work situation this time, and atmosphere really doesn't matter, but I do appreciate the opinions and insight.

                  coming up from DC we don't have many options here when it comes to a certain mid-level Italian (I know, that can mean so many things). but it all seems either high-end or crap down here in the District proper.

                  to clarify: the issue is we're staying downtown w/o car and largely unfamiliar with the area, but willing to hunt and peck. so I suppose Fells or Canton isn't really out of the equation.

                  and again thanks

                  1. re: hill food

                    For solid mid-level Italian-american cuisine in Little Italy, you might try La Scala, Rocco's, or La Tavola. Slightly more casual than these is Amicci's. Although no one has recommended it, for the record, I don't like Germano's. It's been a long time since I have been to Ciao Bella, but I remember thinking there was nothing to complain about.

                    Higher scale is a harder call. I used to think Aldo's was head and shoulders above Da Mimmo's, but my last meal at Aldo's was very dissapointing. So I can't say I think either are really worth the money.

                    For Italian-american cooking, the kind your grandmother might have made, I like Sabatino's. Chiaperelli's salad is very good, if you like heavy garlic and parmesan, which I sometimes do, but the service is downright atrocious.

                2. Oddly enough the best italian isn't in Little Italy, try the neighborhood next door, Harbor East.
                  In my opinion Cingiale is your best bet.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: 180hearted

                    Agreed. And it would give an out-of-towner a harbor view (sitting next to a window). And valet parking is free.

                    1. re: chefdilettante

                      Cingiale is fantastic. You could easily walk there in 3 min from Lil' It'ly, so you may want to seriously consider it.

                      1. re: venera

                        Cinghiale is the perfect place to be treated to dinner! They have a very serious wine list that could be taken advantage of and the food will be much better than a vast majority of the food in Little Italy.

                        Some of the items on their menu are a little ambitious and can come up short, but it's a cool space with a nice atmosphere and very competent service.

                    2. re: 180hearted

                      Cinghiale is quite expensive, though. Something to consider depending on who's doing the treating.

                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                        Hill Food: skip Little Italy. DC has better modern Italian. Think about Bicycle, about ten blocks south of the Harbor, but reserve now. Or taxis to Samos or Zorba's in Greektown, though Samos overloads Fri-Sat nights, Melli and Mezze, both in Fells Point, Brewer's Art near the train station, Ambassador DR way north near the JHU Homewood Campus, and for funkiness Matthew's Pizza out near Greektown.

                        1. re: chowsearch

                          Ditto Matthews pizza ... superb pizza ... definitely a funky Baltimore a experience. Also Brewer's Art was a surprisingly enjoyable dinning experience. They are in an old mansion in Mount Vernon built for an old Alex Brown financial baron. Artsy crowd on weekends ... the bar was packed ... good food

                          1. re: chowsearch

                            The OP is going to be staying downtown, without a car. A lot of these recommendations don't really fit well with the stated criteria.

                      2. I didn't see anyone mention Aldo's... you will have to make reservations and since you are being treated, try the "wine cellar"

                        1. Thanks for all these great suggestions, I'll be spending at least a few hours reading menus online.

                          I appreciate the variety offered and am really looking forward to this. I'll be internet deprived after noon on Friday but will post back with cheers or jeers, but from what I've seen so far, it looks like the former.

                          ah to spend some time in a real city not an intellectual construct (don't get me wrong DC has its own appeal, but...)

                          Thanks again, you've given me plenty to pore through.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: hill food

                            Just two more to throw nto the mix La Scala on Eastern Ave..I have always enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Gia's also on Eastern Ave is very casual, (think trattoria) the Italian Beef sandwich is terrific(byob thou)

                            1. re: Hue

                              I've always enjoyed La Scala and have eaten there now for thirteen years. I did enjoy Cinghale but have not been there since the original chef departed over a year ago.

                              I can't say that I would recommend Da Mimmo for the price alone. If I was being treated, I would prefer my host offer Da Mimmo's prices rather than suggesting it. Went there in 1999 and the experience and food was decent.

                              1. re: Hue

                                La Scala's soft cannoli's are really, really good. Call ahead to make sure they have them. I get them carryout all the time.

                            2. Thanks we had a great time. Let me first say that the people of Baltimore are just so friendly ('course I live in DC so maybe I have low expectations) It's a beautiful city and it was heartbreaking to see all the gorgeous crumbling buildings esp. in the Lexington/Center Street area. but reassuring to see areas like Federal Hill maintaining. my god, I don't think I've seen such a cohesive and intact (if abandoned) city center outside of Boston or Philadelphia. hopefully this economy will rebound and some of your gems can be revived - but that's something for another board.

                              we ended up doing a graze. Amicci's for cocktails and Calamari Fritti: light, crisp, not greasy or rubbery, great marinara. friendly vibe. Rocco's for pasta - con Vongole and Alfredo, rich luscious perfect texture. odd room, but then we were looking for a certain level of stodge. La Scala for veal - Saltimbocca and Marsala, nicely tender, the Marsala could have been reduced a little more IMO, but great flavor and an excellent hostess ("do we need to be on a list?" "nope I've got you"). then Vaccaro's for some of the best Cannoli I've ever had, even beating some similar place in Queens and another in SF's North Beach.

                              Sunday went to Attman's for Nova Lox, a Reuben and Matzoh Ball soup. walking from Shot Tower metro, the area seemed a bit sketchy but totally worth it. oh yeah and lunch Saturday was a plateful of raw oysters at Lexington Market followed by steamed clams and crab soup at the Cross Street Market. god I wish Faidley's would open a branch here - cheap, delicious, what's not to like?

                              next time I would like to try some (all) of the other suggestions like Cinghiale or the suggested Greek.

                              anyway, you have a beautiful city with fantastically welcoming people, please don't let it drift any further. although I do appreciate that it's not a largely sterile construct like DC.

                              Thanks again for everything.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: hill food

                                Thanks so much for the follow up....sounds like you hit a pretty good cross section of eats and neighborhoods. Glad you had a pleasant trip...

                                1. re: hill food

                                  Souds lik eyou had a true Bal'mer experience. Glad you had a good time! Few people take good advice so well.

                                  1. re: JRCann

                                    please don't take it the wrong way but now John Waters' movies make sense.

                                  2. re: hill food

                                    Nice to read you had a good time in our city. It's always good to hear a fresh perspective.

                                    I agree with you, I've found Vaccaro's cannolis to be amongst the best I've tried across America. However, several years ago, they decided to retail and wholesale their shells and filling. You can find them in various places around the area but they're not the same. The shell texture is different and mass produced - unlike the shells they have in the store that are light, flaky and crunchy.

                                    1. re: onocoffee

                                      I thought this was just a psychological thing with me. Glad to see someone else feels the same way.

                                  3. It's kind of an "sophisticated" thing to dis Little Italy and I suppose it has its share of bad and overpriced food, but generally it's pretty good and fun. It's not just about the food, it's also about trying to keep the idea, if not the full authenticity, of ethnicity alive. Some of these places have been in business for many years, serving food that has not changed much. Good for them.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: foodcheck

                                      It has nothing to do with faux sophistication, foodcheck. I'm Italian (American) myself, I've lived in the neighborhood for a year and a half, and there's noplace else in the city I'd choose to live if given the opportunity. The people and the neighborhood are wonderful. But the food, for the most part, isn't. It's mostly lousy, or horribly overpriced, or both (with notable exceptions, of course). You're correct that most of these places have been around for decades and don't seem to have changed much. But given the state of Italian food in the States 30 years ago, I have a hard time understanding how that's a good thing. And this isn't an Italian vs. Italian-American debate. Both are great for different reasons as long as they're well-prepared. But bad is bad, no matter what the history is behind it.

                                      The gripes about the general quality of food in the neighborhood are legitimate, and while everybody is free to like whatever they please, it isn't fair to dismiss those who complain as posing. The food is, for the most part, mediocre. That doesn't make me love the neighborhood or my neighbors any less, but I'm not going to pretend otherwise.

                                      1. re: Dmnkly

                                        Where within a 2 hour drive would you recommend for Italian-American?

                                        1. re: charmedgirl

                                          Pasta Plus, Laurel. In a stripmall.

                                          1. re: es1355a

                                            I used to love Pasta Plus. Last went a year ago. Not quite as good as I remember but still worth the trip. Get there when it opens!

                                            Pasta Plus Restaurant
                                            209 Gorman Ave, Laurel, MD 20707

                                        2. re: Dmnkly

                                          that's an interesting position, I wasn't looking for Italian, but rather 'Italian' something concocted back when my Nana found pizza exotic "Pitza" in her pronunciation. being from STL I was looking for something like the assimilated red sauce sort of dish found there (and found it),

                                          what I found cool about LI is that Mrs. X still lives around the corner, scrubs her steps, has BVM candles in the window and (I'm guessing here) her great uncle or someone had a plaque dedicated at the church (yes I read them all)

                                          maybe this is a question to toss over to the General Topics - What is Italian vs. Italian American? I bet anything that one would explode with hits (hot button! hot button!) if no one has already.

                                          1. re: Dmnkly

                                            I really hope Dmnkly comes back and reads this. I'm interested in his recommendations.

                                        3. Agree on Da Mimmo.

                                          Da Mimmo
                                          217 South High Street, Baltimore, MD 21202