An Italian garden amid the clutter

Restaurant Profile

July 29, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Il Giardino -- The Garden -- is the secret of the Golden Triangle.

That may sound exotic, but we're not talking Far Eastern intrigue here.

A one-story building camouflaged by the suburban clutter and heavy traffic of the old Golden Triangle shopping center, where U.S. 29 and U.S. 40 meet, the 12-year-old Italian restaurant looks ordinary on the outside.

It is obscured by the rush of never-ending traffic, the disruption of a tire store going up next door, the bustle of the Lotte Plaza Asian supermarket, and the huge Super Fresh across U.S. 40.

Inside, that's all out of sight, and out of mind.

Dark, soft green carpeting and chairs, a trellis adorned with green leaves and tiny lights, a dining room divided with alcoves, a raised area and a glass-covered atrium create visual variety and muffle the noise of conversation. The effect is a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere.

The experienced staff -- some of whom have worked for two owners -- adds to that relaxed yet somewhat formal white linen tablecloth ambience.

The staff serves without intruding or hurrying diners, a welcome contrast to some chain restaurants.

"The only thing an independent operation can offer is personal attention," said owner William King III, whose father, William King Jr., has been in the food business since 1951. The Kings also own the Crab Shanty restaurant a bit farther west on U.S. 40.

Advertising for Il Giardino is by word of mouth, not the expensive national television campaigns that the chains use, King III said.

Surviving in this corporate atmosphere is tough, he says. "There's really only a handful of mom-and-pop operations left."

Elena Zanellotti has been Il Giardino's chef for 15 years, under two owners, said general manager Seth Wilder.

The Northern Italian menu ranges from pasta and lasagna, an assortment of chicken, seafood, veal and beef dishes to filet mignon -- plus nightly specials such as lamb chops, jumbo shrimp or seafood linguine. Desserts include Oreo-mousse cake. A children's menu, with items from $2.95 to $3.95, is available.

King and Wilder said the building's exterior was remodeled a year ago, and wallpaper and draperies refurbished two years ago. On most Saturdays, a magician goes from table to table entertaining children.

"The staff's been here years and years," said Wilder, who started as a 16-year-old busboy at the Crab Shanty 13 years ago.

The building, formerly the Pirate's Cove restaurant in the early 1980s, is a perfect match for Howard County's strict smoking laws.

King only needed to install doors between the already separate smaller bar area and the nonsmoking section, unlike the awkward glass walls some restaurants have installed.

Il Giardino Ristorante

Where: 8809 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City; 410-461-1122.

Hours: 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sundays, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Prices: Appetizers $3.25-$8.95; entrees: $8.75-$19.95.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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