When I first moved to Baltimore, Little Italy was the place to go if you wanted to eat downtown. (This was before Harborplace.) And Chiapparelli's was probably the restaurant in Little Italy. The amazing thing is that it hasn't changed that much in all these yearsm even if we have.
Case in point: the salad. Perhaps the most famous house salad in Baltimore. But it no longer seems out of the ordinary, maybe because the night before I had eaten a house salad at another restaurant made of baby mixed greens and radicchio with a fresh pear-basil vinaigrette. Sound too upscale for you? Even the salad bar at the Giant gives you a variety of greens and vegetables.
But the waitresses at Chiapparelli's still ladle out huge platefuls of chopped iceberg and mix them with oil and vinegar and lots of cheese, and add a cherry tomato and a pepperoncini. It's OK, but I wouldn't say it's the best house salad in Baltimore, or even in Little Italy.
One thing has changed: Little Italy, and specifically Chiapparelli's, is no longer a cheap place to eat. The shocker for me was a first course, shrimp Nicola. There were four large shrimp in a pool of lemon butter for $10. Nicely cooked shrimp, but still . . .
A better bet for a starter would be a half order of Mom Chiapparelli's ravioli ($10.95 as a main course). The homemade pasta pillows are soft and huge, plump with ricotta and spinach. (Less salt in the filling and less red sauce on top, and they'd be even better.)
Less salt in the Alfredo sauce, and grilled chicken with fettuccine Alfredo ($13.95) would have been the dish of the evening. The pasta in its rich cheese, cream and butter sauce sparked with prosciutto would satisfy your most wicked cravings; and the boneless chicken breast was perfectly charbroiled. No such care had been taken with the pescatore ($17.95). Mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp were all overcooked. These along with whole stewed tomatoes were served on a bed of linguine.
Bread? Not up to the standards of Little Italy's best restaurants. Cappuccino? It's made from a mix. Desserts? The made-on-the-premises filling of a cannoli had the texture of mashed potatoes. Try instead an ice cream concoction of chocolate and vanilla with cherries in a hard chocolate shell.
The best thing about Little Italy's restaurants, though, is that you can come away from a pretty ordinary meal fairly happy -- as we did. Chiapparelli's dining room is so homey and cozy, the waitresses so pleasant. I have to give the restaurant another half star just because it's a nice place to be.
Where: 237 S. High St.
Hours: Sundays through Thursdays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. to midnight.
Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards.
Features: Italian food.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 837-0309.