By Father Leo Patalinghug
The challenge to select a Little Italy restaurant to review is complicated by the fact that I’m good friends with the owners of the best places: Aldo’s, La Tavola, DaMimmo’s, and Cesar’s Den – some of my personal favorites for refined, authentically flavorful Italian cuisine. Therefore, I decided on a place that will hopefully be friendly to a behind-the-screen “confession” – Amicci’s Restaurant.
The bar-like atmosphere gave an instant vibe for what the restaurant owner intends for this pub-ish approach to Italian food: casual and friendly. I was welcomed with a smile and seated immediately in one of the sectioned-off rooms, creating an intimate dining experience with limited tables in each section. Hard surfaces and tighter spaces, however, lend to louder conversations. Even in mid-week, at a slower time of the year, Amicci’s bustled loudly – perhaps due to the happy hour. Though clean, the wear and tear of some furniture and walls is easily noticed, but also easily overlooked by the very friendly staff.
The one-page, double-sided menu offers limited, but adapted recipes for traditional Italian dishes. Classic flavors are “Americanized” and served up in large portions, border-lining between generous and excessive. For example, the traditional caprese appetizer ($9) – tomato, mozzarella and basil – was overwhelmed by a tart, mouth-puckering balsamic vinaigrette. Each of the five dishes I ordered lacked the certain refinement to be considered “fine” Italian food, but fit well with the casual theme. For example, over-sauced pasta, uneven cuts of vegetables, a slight taste of “refrigeration,” and some dishes were under -seasoned while others seemed over-seasoned.
Personalized dishes – probably named after friends – such as Judith’s Cacciatore, Chicken Dolores and Chicken Lorenzo make for a playful menu. The recommended “Lorenzo” is a pan-seared breast with Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs, topped with prosciutto, roasted red peppers, provolone, zucchini, mushrooms and a uniquely sweet tomato-marsala wine, served over fettucini for $16.99 – a lot of food! Seafood options are limited only to shrimp with variations of cream or tomato-based sauces.
The menu’s ingredients felt monotonous. The rotation of proteins (chicken, shrimp, sausage) mixed with a basic medley of vegetables felt uninspired. But the tighter control of ingredients keeps the kitchen efficient, serving plates quick and hot. Diners may miss red meat, veal, fresh seafood and even dessert options. Ammici’s only offers one: a single homemade cannoli that rivals Vacarro’s famous version.
Amicci’s advertises “fine” Italian foods, but it was more casual – tasty, plentiful and reminiscent of a fun meal made by friends in their own kitchen.
The parking and front entrance stairs can make it difficult for some folks. But, the friendly attention, fast service, basic menu and lower-priced, share-able entrees make it an attractive place for families and casual dining.
Amicci’s approach certainly lives up to its name. To paraphrase the Olive Garden, “When you’re here, you’re friends!”
Father Patalinghug is looking for your favorite Anne Arundel County restaurants to review. E-mail your suggestions to FrLeo@CatholicReview.org. Visit gracebeforemeals.com for more information.