At Tonino's, a house dressing to die for

September 24, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We went to Tonino's in Reisterstown in search of what we heard was a great house dressing, and found much more. This family-friendly Italian restaurant handles pasta, pizza and subs as smoothly as it tosses its salads.

It's true, the house dressing is incredible: Think of a lemon-less Caesar dressing with four times the Parmesan cheese. We tried the dressing on the Tonino's salad, a large Italian-style chef's salad, with jumbo shrimp nestled in cups of provolone and salami, sliced vegetables and artichoke hearts.

Iceberg lettuce wouldn't have been our first choice, but it was fresh and crisp. And, frankly, we would've been happy eating this dressing on cardboard.

You might not want to order a salad, though, if you're having an entree. The complimentary house salad is big enough to share and comes with plenty of Tonino's wonderful dressing. Instead, order an appetizer of mushrooms Provencale, a bowlful of button mushroom caps in a luscious golden broth of garlic, wine and fresh tomatoes. Make sure to ask for extra bread to sop up the Provencale sauce.

Bruschetta and crostini are on the regular menu, but we tried the bruschetta special with goat cheese, slivers of grilled eggplant and diced red-ripe tomatoes. It was the big lumps of creamy goat cheese that really made this starter stand out.

Goat cheese? Grilled eggplant? Mushrooms Provencale? That's right. This is no ordinary pizzeria. Jesse Issa opened Tonino's 10 years ago with his brother, Michael, a chef who trained at the Baltimore International College.

Last October, they renovated and more than doubled the restaurant's size. The look now is updated Mediterranean, with muted Italian tile, arched niches outlined in brick, and artwork that calls to mind the charms of Venice and Italian seaside towns. Tonino's is pretty enough for a weekend dinner and comfortable enough to bring the kids for midweek subs and pizza. At least one family found it just the right place to tackle homework assignments, too.

Tonino's pizza has a wonderful crust with fresh, yeasty flavor and a bright-tasting tomato sauce that's not too acidic. The sub expert at our table declared the chicken parmigiana sub a winner. Sauce to cheese ratio, perfect. Breading, not greasy. Chicken breast, generously portioned and moist.

The pasta primavera substituted spaghetti for fettuccine, but we didn't mind. We liked the mix of six large, tender shrimp with slivers of carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, mushroom slices and crisp florets of broccoli; and the way the barest amount of cream enriched the tomato sauce.

Desserts aren't made in-house and, aside from a cannoli with RTC lovely cinnamon-flavored ricotta cream, they're mostly forgettable.

Stick with what Michael Issa prepares in the kitchen and don't be shy about taking leftovers with you. The staff is smart, quick and willing to oblige endless requests for doggie bags.

Tonino's

2 Hanover Road, Reisters-town

410-833-2070

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.95-$6.95; entrees, $4.40-$14.95

Food: ***

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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