At Strapazza, strike while strike is hot

August 19, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

With a strike going on, you may wonder why you would want to know about Strapazza at Camden Yards. Consider this: When the Orioles are playing, it's the worst time to have dinner here.

You might get carbon monoxide poisoning sitting in the outdoor cafe because of all the traffic. Even if you don't, it would be like eating in Grand Central Station. And as for getting a seat indoors . . . it's probably easier to get Orioles tickets.

After all, the original Strapazza in Towson is a popular place, known for offering huge portions of Italian pastas at minuscule prices. The Pratt Street Strapazza is one of four Neapolitan restaurants to open under the same name. But each one is separately owned with a different chef.

It's never seemed that the other Strapazzas had such a good location as the original, and the Pratt Street one is no exception. On a night last week when the Orioles were playing in New York, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. With the free parking in back when the O's aren't in town, that's not a bad deal.

The restaurant has plenty of character. It's located in what may be Baltimore's only remaining cast iron building, built in 1871 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside is a Roman mural, lots of exposed brick and loud music. Outside are a few tables in what would be a pretty outdoor cafe if the flower boxes were kept in better shape.

Judging from our meal, it doesn't matter what you order, you get pretty much the same thing. OK, OK, that's an exaggeration. But we did order a special that the waiter described as chicken with roasted vegetables, fettucine and two sauces, pesto and marinara. What we got was a large boneless chicken breast with canned pimiento, fettucine, cream sauce and chopped parsley. It was pretty good, and there was enough for two, but it wasn't what we expected.

The tender tortellini Emiliani were filled with cheese, and the pasta was sauced with the same cream sauce as the chicken. The promised "fresh vegetables" on top turned out to be a few sliced mushrooms and some chopped parsley.

Strapazza's pizza has more character than the pastas I've tried. The crusts are crisp and chewy, with appealing toppings like chopped shrimp, clams and squid in a white wine and garlic sauce covered with mozzarella.

It would make a better starter than something like the clams casino, which involved large, gritty, rubbery clams smothered in bread crumbs. The salads are more than generous but are mostly iceberg lettuce, pale tomatoes and white onion. (The freshly grated Romano cheese improves them immeasurably, though.)

Desserts are run of the mill: tira misu, a cannoli, spumoni ice cream.

I haven't made the food sound too appealing, have I? But somehow eating at Strapazza is more than the sum of its parts. It's hard not to have a good time sitting outside on a warm summer evening, drinking wine and eating the good bread sticks. It's hard to complain about a decent enough pasta when it costs under $10. And the general niceness of the staff can't help but put you in a better mood.

Strapazza at Camden Yards

Where: 300 W. Pratt St.

Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: All major.

Features: Pastas and pizza

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 547-1160

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$6.50; entrees, $7.30-$13.50

** 1/2

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