Food and service score at cafe

December 18, 1997|By Brian Sullam | Brian Sullam,SUN STAFF

After consuming all the Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings our stomachs could tolerate, my wife and I agreed we needed a meal without cranberries, sweet potatoes or stuffing.

We decided Cafe Mezzanotte, an Italian restaurant that opened three months ago in the former Magic Dish, would offer the appropriate antidote of tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.

As we entered, the aroma of roasted garlic surrounded us. We knew we had chosen the right place.

We had tried to make reservations, but directory assistance did not have a listing for the restaurant under the name Mezzanotte. The hostess told us later that the listing is under Cafe Mezzanotte.

Despite our lack of reservations, Domenica Tripoli, the hostess, seated us immediately.

The interior has a clean and simple look. Paintings of Italian villages and scenery adorn the walls. The lighting is subdued. Carpeted floors and potted plants help to keep the noise tolerable.

Co-owners Gennaro Di Meo and Gennaro Di Benedetto, who are in their 20s but have spent their lives in the restaurant business, intend to offer generous portions of well-prepared and moderately priced Italian food. They have succeeded.

The menu has an extensive listing of pasta, fish, veal and chicken. The most expensive item is $16.95, but most of the entrees are in the $10-to-$12 range.

For appetizers, we split orders of bruschette alla Napoletana and shrimp gondola. The bruschette, slices of bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and onion doused with olive oil, was tasty. The only shortcoming was the bread, which lacked the crusty and chewy consistency that is characteristic of this dish in Italy.

The shrimp gondola was exquisite. A sauce of butter, lemon, garlic and a touch of tomatoes covered six plump, perfectly cooked shrimp that sat on toasted bread. We wolfed these down and greedily mopped up the remaining sauce with warm Italian bread.

With the crush of people, it took some time for the entrees to come out of the kitchen. Our attentive waiter, who was more concerned about the delay than we were, periodically checked the status of our order and reported back.

My wife's spaghetti puttanesca was an excellent interpretation of this classic combination of marinara sauce, olives, capers and anchovies. The serving was large enough that she filled herself up and still had enough to take home for a meal the next day.

My red snapper with mussels and clams was superb. The snapper fillet, moist and firm, had been cooked in white wine sauce, garlic and tomatoes with enough cayenne pepper to add a hint of fire to the dish. It came with a slightly overdone serving of linguine.

We split a side dish of fresh spinach and roasted peppers sauteed in garlic and olive oil.

For dessert, we had a homemade confection called tiramisu in a cup. Brandy-soaked ladyfingers were layered with a light, creamy custard. We found out that this dessert and all others were made by the mother of the hostess.

We finished the meal with coffee and a double espresso. With tax and tip, the dinner cost $85.61, which we thought was a fair price for the superb food and service.

Cafe Mezzanotte

Where: 760 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park 410-647-1100

Hours: 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$7.95; entrees, $9.95-$16.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express

Handicapped accessible

Rating: *** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland

**** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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