Complicated, but tasty

TAKEOUT

August 04, 2004|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's a little tricky to pry apart the components of Jay's Restaurant Group in the 1300 block of N. Charles St. There's the Viccino Bistro; Jay's Deli; and Viccino, Jay's Italian Gourmet, a carryout place that offers food from Viccino and from Jay's. Is your head spinning yet?

To keep things simple, we stuck to carryout, remembering a good Viccino pizza a while back. We ordered early on a Friday evening, and the kitchen, visible from the small, standing-room-only waiting space, was hopping with line cooks cracking jokes and making calzones.

But the person who took our order didn't seem to think it was necessary to be anything more than curt. In the nice weather, we were able to wait at a sidewalk table for about 20 minutes.

As remembered, the large pizza ($12.50) was great. Half plain, half pepperoni, it was greasy and tasty, two related traits. The cheese had an appealing tangy presence, a rarity in the world of pizza, where flavorless cheese is the norm.

A chicken parmesan sandwich ($5.50) was also satisfying. The fried chicken cutlet, embedded in melted cheese and served on a toasted Italian roll, conjured up a time when neighborhood carryouts didn't have to compete with fast food.

But the grilled pesto calzone ($5.95), a daily special, came across as a failed experiment. The pesto gave the mozzarella cheese a gritty quality, and the presence of mushrooms and onions didn't improve matters.

There was no stinting on the Viccino salad ($6.95), a melange of mixed field greens, artichokes, roasted squash, red peppers and olives. But perhaps the kitchen could have gone lighter on the red-wine vinaigrette, which left the salad slightly over-saturated.

A small quibble here: When we got home, we discovered that our dessert order was missing. This has happened on several occasions at different carryouts. Desserts, for some reason, can easily be left behind. The lesson: Check your order before leaving.

We swung by later that night for the missing desserts. This time, our server was pleasant and apologetic. And the confections were pleasing. A light and faintly liquor-flavored tiramisu ($3.50) was a small delight; the carrot cake ($3.10) was moist yet dense, topped with a yummy cream-cheese icing.

One more brownie point for the Jay's conglomerate: Student specials and discounts are available, a nice perk for the University of Baltimore community.

Viccino, Jay's Italian Gourmet

Food: ***

Service: **

Waiting area: *1/2

Parking: **

Where: 1315 N. Charles St.

Phone: 410-576-0266

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday through Saturday; 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Salads, soups, appetizers, pasta, entrees and pizza from $1.95 to $12.95; credit cards accepted

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

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