Luigi Petti would drive a demographer wild.
On a recent Saturday night, it looked as if every neighborhood in town had sent an archetypal representative to this newest of Little Italy eateries. The booth next to ours held a Middle American couple and son who might have been Beaver Cleaver's next-door neighbors, while creatively dressed Maryland Institute types dined across the aisle. Occupying adjacent spaces at the bar were two women, one in a moussed skyscraper hairdo and dagger heels, another who looked just like Barbara Bush, were the first lady an Italian housewife.
A restaurant with something for everyone? Looks like it. It has neon, a trendy pink-and-black color scheme and an Italian mama in the kitchen making homemade gnocchi. Its walls are decorated with such icons of hip pop culture as Bardot and James Dean -- and its menu is filled with all the old Little Italy favorites.
And not least among the attractions are commendably reasonable prices. Wherever they hang their hat, and however they do their hair, Baltimoreans are suckers for big platters of homemade ravioli, stuffed with ricotta, spinach and Italian sausage, for $5.95.
As my companion had a touch of a cold, he opted for the chicken "egg drop" soup called straciatella ($1.95), and an order of fried calamari (which he is never too sick to devour). The broth itself was mild and soothing, but instead of having a little egg whipped into it, it seemed to have a whole omelet. It wasn't elegant, but it was pleasant and substantial.
The squid ($4.95) were a bit chewy, but were appealingly crunchy and, when they had been zinged up with a little lemon, tasty. They aren't Baltimore's best, but if you need a squid fix, they satisfy.
My choice, the insalata Luigi Petti ($2.50), is one of those salads that does Little Italy proud; the romaine and iceberg had been mixed with sliced onions and pepperoncini, and laced with an herb vinaigrette packed with fresh grated cheese.
I also picked one of the specials of the day, shrimp cardinal, although its $12.95 tab was higher than all but one dish on the regular menu. The shrimp, large and plentiful, were tossed with fettucini in what sounded to our ears like "pink Caucasian" sauce. (We must have misheard our waitress, but this supplied us with plenty of low comic relief throughout the rest of the meal.) The sauce was actually composed of cream, butter and sweetish red wine, and was rich, but not ruinously so.
The pasta-less chicken tetrazzini ($7.95), on the other hand. ... Even diners like me, who still dote on butterfat, have developed tastes for leaner fare, and might find the richness of this chicken's pimento-accented "light" cream sauce excessive.
While we didn't feel any pressing need to order dessert -- they are all from Vaccaro's, which means we've tasted them at just about every other restaurant in Little Italy -- we split a rum cake, which was marvelously moist and chocolately and alcoholic.
Service has its awkward moments, but does get points for effort. When we left our doggie bag behind, the busboy chased us for two blocks to return it. A small thing, maybe, but such willingness to please is far from petty.
Where: 1002 Eastern Ave.
Hours: noon to 4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; noon to 11 p.m. Sundays.
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V.
Features: Italian dishes.