Enrico's is an idea whose time has come: A family restaurant with slow food, a fast bar and an attractive atmosphere that puts youngsters and adults at ease for a meal that's a cut above most outings to such places.
Enrico's, on Route 140 between Reisterstown and Westminster, was formerly Fiori, which moved to Owings Mills last year in a who's-on-first maneuver by the Country Fare Group. Enrico's, new to that group, is "a family style Italian eatery" with a menu that offers veal piccante, lump crab cakes and homemade pastas, as well as pizza and subs.
Children are not only welcome, they are fed for free every night before 7 o'clock when they're accompanied by an adult and order from the children's menu.
Enrico's takes reservations only for larger groups, so we went early on a summer Saturday as we did not know how big a crowd to expect and, with two little diners, did not want to wait. What we found was no crowd at 5:30 p.m., but a dining room that nearly filled up while we ate.
There were many families among the diners, but there were also adults, young and old, without children.
We also found a warm dining room with rich, dark wood, a large fireplace and windows that overlooked the highway out front and a grassy yard out back. I had never been here, but I imagine this homey, comfortable room, which you enter through the bar, is largely unchanged from its days as Fiori.
The children's entrees, all served with applesauce or french fries, include chicken tenders, spaghetti with meatballs, pizza, fish sticks and peanut butter and jelly. Each is $1.95 after 7 p.m., free before.
Enrico's adult entrees are available either as platters or as
dinners. The dinners, usually $3 more, include choice of soup or melon, salad, bread and dessert.
We ordered two children's chickens, a grilled boneless chicken breast dinner ($12.50) for my husband and one of the nightly specials, flounder ($13.50), for me.
Our youngsters helped us with the minestrone and the melon. The minestrone had a thin broth filled with meat and a variety of vegetables. It was more flavorful, more satisfying than many minestrones.
The house salads were small, but fresh and colorful. The Parmesan pepper dressing was thick and good.
The children's chicken portions looked small, but we had some left over, so it must have been just about
right. The chicken was fried but not greasy; the fries, ordinary.
The adult portions, likewise, seemed small, but commensurate with the prices. The flounder was tender, but had no memorable flavor. It was served with rice with peas.
My husband's tasty chicken was cooked with garlic, olive oil and herbs and served with rice. It made a nice, light meal on a hot evening.
At about this point, we realized we were in an Italian restaurant, but were not eating Italian food. (Lapses in judgment are common among adults dining with youngsters.) So,
we ordered spaghetti with meatballs ($6.50) to go. When we ate it the next day, we found the homemade pasta good and the sauce rich with tomatoes -- obviously homemade, too -- though not highly seasoned.
For dessert we ordered chocolate ice cream ($1.50), cannoli ($1.50), carrot cake ($1.95) and chocolate sabayon ($1.95). The cannoli was clearly the best; its filling was laden with chocolate chips and the waitress added a few more on the side.
The carrot cake was a bit dry, but the icing was creamy and good. The chocolate ice cream was . . . chocolate ice cream. Our younger daughter, who had ordered it, quickly worked a trade for her dad's delicious chocolate sabayon, a rich cake with mousse-like filling and icing.
My husband's and my desserts were, according to the menu, included in the price of dinner, but we were charged for them, nonetheless -- except that the carrot cake was 75 cents instead of the posted $1.95. We didn't ask for an explanation.
Our bill, with two cocktails, two glasses of wine, two Shirley Temples, two coffees and the spaghetti to go, was $62.69.
Our service had been most accommodating. Most of the servers were friendly teens, who seemed amused and entertained by their young clientele. They also seemed tuned in to the needs of parents with anxious eaters.
We sampled the mints, took a stroll around the back yard, which also offered a back-door view of the kitchen, and left happy that we had found Enrico's. It seems to be a restaurant for '90s parents -- good food, pleasant service, comfortable surroundings, and a bar.
Hours: Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday, 4-8:30 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted only for groups of six or more.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated