Aida Bistro, which opened June 6, is very much a family affair, according to Joe Barbera, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Mary.
The restaurant is named after his mother, Aida (who in turn was named after the opera by her father, who immigrated to the United States from Genoa, Italy, about the turn of the century). Aida, 75, plans to be involved in the restaurant as well, greeting people as if she were welcoming them to her home.
And that's what Aida's is all about, Joe Barbera says. "When we first came here 20 years ago, there weren't any chains. Now, that's all that's left," he says. "We wanted our restaurant to be more personal, like you're eating in our dining room.
"It's definitely more than just Italian food or a trattoria," Barbera says. "It's more Mediterranean, more European. More urban. Italian food is our core, but we will be adding specials with more of a Mediterranean flair."
One thing that stands out on the menu are the dishes with people's names, such as Jeffrey Loves Spinach (mounds of fresh spinach, olives, red onions, portebello mushrooms, hard boiled eggs laced with a warm pancetta and balsamic dressing), Kathryn's Pesto (a fresh basil pesto sauce served with penne pasta), Uncle Frank's Fra Diavolo (sauteed shrimp in a spicy red pepper marinara sauce, served over fresh linguine) and Emil's Eggplant Parmigiana (fresh eggplant, lightly battered and baked with marinara sauce and mozzarella and Parmigiano cheeses).
"These are all family names," Barbera says. "Jeffrey's my 7-year-old son; Kathryn's my daughter; Emil's my father-in-law."
Other entrees include grilled New York strip steak (10 ounces of Angus beef topped with a red wine and wild mushroom demi-glace), Chicken Aida (boneless breast of chicken stuffed with fresh spinach, prosciutto di Parma, rosemary-scented spinach and fresh mozzarella cheese and laced with a white wine lemon butter sauce) and Grilled Salmon Annabelle (Atlantic salmon marinated with wine, lemon and fresh dill, grilled and served with a Dijon wine and butter sauce).
Many of the recipes also reflect the Barbera family. "The minestrone recipe was handed down through the family to my mother, and the cannolis are also her recipe," he says.
Aida's has a children's menu, which offers chicken fingers with fries, fish and chips, or spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatball, for $2.99.
The deli portion of the restaurant opened three months ago and features a variety of deli-style hot and cold sandwiches. "We're catering to the business community who might be looking for a quick lunch," Barbera says. The deli also delivers lunches and caters business functions.
One of Aida's features is its wine bar. "We offer 30 wines by the glass or by the bottle, Barbera says. "We also run specials. For example, we may offer three Spanish wines or three Italian wines that you can try."
Barbera believes that Aida's food is enhanced by good wine. Aida's staff members have been educated in wines and are able to suggest wines to complement the entrees.
"If you ask, I certainly come over to your table and help you select a wine for your meal or chat with you about the entrees," Barbera says. "That's what Aida's is all about."
Aida Bistro and Deli
Where: 7185 A Gateway Drive, Columbia 21045; 410-953-0500
Hours: Deli - 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; Bistro - 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays for dinner
Prices: $8.95 to $17.95
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Diner's Club and American Express