Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chef Paolino Cafe: Ellicott City, MD

Chef Paolino Cafe had its soft opening last week
(in the former Serafino's restaurant space) and will have a big grand opening sometime after July 4, according to owner Paul DelFico, whose family is from Naples, Italy.

My mom, who grew up in Howard County, remembers this same restaurant when it was located in the old food court in The Mall in Columbia, next to the main water fountain. When the Mall closed the small food court, Paolino's relocated to Catonsville. The Ellicott City store marks its second location in the area.

Owner Paul DelFico


Paulino's has reconfigured the old Serofina's space adding more booths and tables and eliminating the bar seats and brick oven. Even the adjacent space that used to be a bar and private room is getting a facelift to make it more like a separate dinning area than a bar- "more family friendly" for group rentals that can seat 60 people,  said DelFico.

The first thing you see when you enter Paolino's is the impressive display of various pizzas, calzones, roll ups, bruschetta and garlic knots. This is where a nice staff member behind the cash register gave us a glossy new menu.

The menu had lunch specials - antipasti, pasta, chicken, veal, seafood. A chalk board had the pizza of the day special. Or we could order off the regular section that had more choices in each of those categories, in addition to salads, subs, deli sandwiches and soup.

Everything looked so good and we were really hungry, so we tried a bunch of items to share. We tasted slices of New York Style Pizza with mushroom topping and white pizza with sautéed spinach. This is about as close to New York pizza as it comes - thin, crispy crust with just the right amount of sauce or ricotta and toppings that do not overpower the bread. True to NY pizza, I could easily pick up the slice and fold it in half to eat it - without any cheese, sauce or toppings falling off. 

My mom LOVED the white pizza with spinach. She said it had a bunch of garlic and spices that added zest to both the spinach and crust.  

The greek salad (we added the chicken topping) was huge and chuck full of ice berg lettuce and vegetables such as cucumbers, green and cherry peppers, red onions, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and shredded carrots. The Italian dressing was light and didn't over power the fresh vegetables. A basket of nicely seasoned, crunchy garlic bread accompanied the salad. 

We spilt a cheesesteak deluxe and eggplant parmigiana with our mom. Again, these were enormous portions. Each half of the sandwich could easily serve as one meal.  The cheesesteak was loaded with well seasoned beef, lettuce, tomato, hots, cheese, and onions. The hots were less spicy than I anticipated. It was actually a nice burst of flavor. This sub was so well put together that nothing came out of place or fell when I held the sub.
Eggplant Parmigiana 
The eggplant parm was heavy on the eggplant and light on sauce - the way I like it. Although the sandwich was good, it wasn't a standout like the cheesesteak which had more seasoning.  I think I'd like it better as an entree with pasta rather than a sub. 
Chicken Marsala 
My dad ordered the chicken marsala lunch special. This too was a generous portion of two large chicken cutlets sautéed in a marsala wine sauce with mushrooms a top a bed of pasta. The sauce was tasty but my dad would have liked more garlic in the sauce. 

When I saw Mussells Caprese on the menu- mussels with white wine, parley, lemon, garlic and olive oil - it had my name all over it. The presentation was pretty with all the mussels standing at attention sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley in a sea of well seasoned broth. Let's just say, there weren't any mussels left in my dish. I used the garlic bread from the salad and side order of garlic knots to soak up the delicious broth.

Mussels Caprese 
When we left we noticed a large stand with a sign "Authentic Italian Cookies from New York". Indeed, it was a huge selection of some of our favorite Italian cookies. Since we were stuffed, we didn't buy any this time, but we will definitely go back and try some another time.
Lastly, the menu advertises two weekly specials from 4 to 10 p.m.  Monday is Pasta Night -
buy one entree, get one pasta for $5. Tuesday is Pizza Night - Buy 1 pizza of your choice, get 2nd cheese pizza for $5 (limit to 6 pizzas).

- Thomas

Chef Paolino Cafe
3419 Plum Tree Drive
Ellicott City, Maryland
(410) 680-8087

Mission BBQ - soft opening fundraiser (Columbia)

For weeks now I've been passing this awesome truck parked in front of the vacant Chicken Out space in Columbia, wondering when Mission BBQ would open. I couldn't wait any longer, so I stopped in to the temporary offices set up in a trailer next to the restaurant space. 

I spoke to Dave Dotterer, Mission BBQ Director of Operations, who told me that there will be a soft opening for the public on Friday, July 11 from 5 to 9 p.m where everyone can purchase food and all the proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project. Mission BBQ has a long history of giving back to military support organizations.

 Satisfy your taste buds and give back to your country!!  Check out their menu here

The Grand Opening will be Monday, July 14.

- Charles

Mission BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maggiano's Little Italy - The Mall in Columbia

Charles and I were invited to the grand opening of Maggiano's Little Italy at The Mall in Columbia  that included a pasta ribbon cutting ceremony and a VIP luncheon. 

 Maggiano's specializes in made-from-scratch, every day Italian-American family style cuisine, based on recipes that have been in Italian families for generations.

This sounds like our own Italian American family. Since many of our family meals are from recipes handed down from our own relatives in Sicily, Naples and Rome, we were excited to try the meals at Maggiano's. Charles was busy so I went by myself (well, my mom had to drive me). 

The ribbon cutting ceremony was held in front of the entrance next to the awesome outdoor patio. The ceremony was interesting because the ribbon was actually made from 10 feet of braided whole wheat fettucini pasta. I'd never seen that before. 

Howard County Council member Courtney Watson,
me and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman

Maggiano's President Steve Provost,
Council member Courtney Watson
and me  

                                             After the ceremony, I met some important people - Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Howard County Council Vice Chairperson Courtney Watson, Maggiano's -Executive Chef Matt Delano, Managing Partner Michael Woernle and President Steve Provost. They were all really cool people who treated me like an adult - even though I'm a teenager with braces.

Chef Delano even took me through the kitchen to see where all the action happens. 

Although the restaurant can sit ~300 people, it feels cozy inside with   black leather booths combined with tables covered in red checker cloths that can be pushed together to make room for large parties - like the one we sat at for the luncheon. The dinning room's floor to ceiling windows makes the space feel open and light.

The guy sitting across from me was none other than Reagan from The Mix 106.5 morning radio show. Charles and I listen to that station all the time.  

Before the food came out, the waiters and chef asked if we had any food allergies. They said they could make almost any kind of dish to accommodate allergies like gluten free pasta and sauces. 

Chopped Salad 
Our luncheon was served family style but on the regular menu you can order it family style or as individual meals. We started with delicious warm Italian bread with olive oil dipping sauce. 

Followed by the chopped salad - lettuce, crispy prosciutto, tomatoes, blue cheese, avocado well mixed with their house dressing that had hints of mustard and vinegar. I could have eaten the entire bowl. This salad is offered on the menu as a side or main course. 

Crispy Zucchini Fritte with Lemon Aioli
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with
Roasted Pepper sauce with Arugula and Tomatoes
When I asked Chef Delano what he'd recommend as an appetizer for a hungry teenager like myself, he suggested the Crsipy Zucchini Fritté with Lemon Aioli sauce. I wasn't sure I'd like the sauce but it was creamy goodness with a little bit of fresh lemon. The zucchini was cut very thin which made it light and crispy. He was right that I'd like it.

They are described as "jumbo lump" crab cakes on the menu. They certainly lived up to that claim. The crab cake was a good size portion seasoned with old bay seasoning that didn't over power the crab meat. Combined with the zing of the roasted pepper sauce it was a hit. The dish was served family style, but I liked it so much I went back for thirds.  

Then they rolled out the pasta dishes - their classic Mom's Lasagna and famous Rigatoni "D" dish. 

Considering I'm a HUGE fans of my grandmother Alberta's famous lasagna, I wasn't sure how Mama Maggiano's would stack up.  But with its crumbled meatballs and sausage, ricotta cheese and sweet sauce, it held its own. While my grandmother uses dry pasta, which makes the lasagna thicker, Maggiano's was bursting with thick meaty sauce and tender layers of fresh pasta. Similar to my grandmother's sauce, it had a slight sweetness to it. This is the real deal.

The Rigatoni "D" dish is herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms, caramelized onions in a marsala cream sauce. Did I ever mention how much I love mushrooms and caramelized onions in marsala? Oh yeah, this dish had it going on. All my favorite things in one dish. The only, and I mean only, thing I would change about this dish is to ask for more sauce next time. 

Unfortunately, I had to leave the luncheon before it ended (I went on my school lunch break), so I missed a few more dishes and dessert.  As I was leaving, Maggiano's Steve Provost gave me a bag full of goodies to take home. It made me feel like when we have family over our house for big dinners, my mom and grandmother always make extra to send guests home with food. 

I thought the "extra" food was special because of the VIP luncheon, but I learned it's actually part of the normal experience at Maggiano's. It's called the “On The House Classic Pasta,” which sends any guest who orders one of eight handmade pastas home with a second Classic Pasta of their choice, compliments of Chef Delano.  I was happy to hear that. 

As I was walking out, I noticed a separate section in Maggiano's just for take out orders. The person there told me they also deliver and sell pasta sauces by the jar. The best thing I learned was they take reservations - which on a busy Friday or Saturday is terrific because nearby restaurants like Cheesecake Factory don't take reservations. 

I am definitely coming back and bringing Charles and my family. There are so many things on the menu that I want to try such as the steamed mussels, honey mustard salmon club sandwich, mushroom ravioli al forno and salmon oscar. 

If you visit Maggiano's let us know about it. And if you see me and my brother eating there, come say hi.

- Thomas

Maggiano's on Urbanspoon