Owners change, but quality remains Restaurant: At Angelina's, you get what you've learned to expect, including terrific crab cakes and cheesecake to die for.

March 15, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Angelina's -- like Haussner's and Maison Marconi -- has been around so long it's taken on landmark status in Baltimore. The Irish pub now known for its crab cakes and Italian food opened 48 years ago as a small Italian restaurant. The original owners were Angelina Tadduni and her husband, Joe.

Here's the amazing part: Two sets of owners later, Angelina, who lives a couple of doors down from the restaurant, still comes in once a week (on Thursday nights) to cook. She's in her 80s.

When her husband died in the early '70s, Angelina sold the restaurant to Bob and Carol Reilly. The Reillys opened an Irish bar downstairs from the dining room, added what has become Baltimore's most famous crab cake to the menu, and started making what some think is the best cheesecake in the city -- if not the world. I'm tempted to agree.

Eleven years ago, Bob and Susan Bufano bought Angelina's. Carol Reilly still works as manager. The Bufanos have kept the Irish bar, the Italian dishes, the crab cakes, the cheesecake. But to keep up with the times they've taken some of the fried dishes off the menu and added more broiled and sauteed ones. They also started shipping the crab cakes as gifts, which, according to Bufano, has been a huge success.

What the Bufanos haven't done is change the comfy, old-fashioned dining rooms of the corner rowhouse. Angelina's has become a tourist attraction for those who want a taste of Baltimore as it used to be. Many of them order those crab cakes, and they are as good as you'll get anywhere. Made with jumbo lump crab meat, they have a minimum of filler and are assertively spiced. My preference is to get them fried, so they have a light, golden crust to contrast with the snowy lumps of crab.

Just about everything is made on the premises, including the bread and the desserts. Soups taste fresh and homey. The kitchen makes its own coleslaw, good stewed tomatoes and a fabulous potato salad, and it pickles its own beets.

I love the mussels marinara, with their light, fresh tomato sauce and crusty garlic bread. Equally good is the shellfish spaghettini. Steamed clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp come nestled in tender pasta with a deliciously garlicky broth flecked with parsley.

The fish of the day might be rockfish -- a fine, fat fillet -- and you can get it stuffed with lump crab meat and topped with an old-fashioned, thick blanket of imperial sauce (which I could do without).

I would stay away from dishes like the veal parmigiana. The waitress lovingly refers to it as "veal parm," and tells us it's a favorite among regulars. But the reality is thin veal, thick breading, uninteresting tomato sauce and rubbery cheese.

A couple of other flies in the ointment:

It's no surprise that fresh vegetables aren't a forte here, and green beans are cooked to a fare-thee-well.

But I did think pies might be extra-good; the dessert display certainly looks tempting enough. Alas, fillings are decent, but pastry that I tried on two different nights was dreadful.

But who cares about pie anyway, when you have cheesecake this good? No fussing with perfection here -- no crust, no fruit, no exotic flavors. Just a heavy, incredibly creamy slice of pure bliss.

Angelina's

Where: 7135 Harford Road

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$9.95; entrees, $8.95-$20.95; major credit cards

Call: 410-444-5545

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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