Monday, June 09, 2008

Chef Paolino's

As gentrified as Old Frederick Road already is, Catonsville is really rejuvenating itself. I could swear I saw two or three new restaurants either opening or getting ready to open, including a much-needed Mexican restaurant and a gourmet seafood place that looks like it belongs a few miles down the road in Ellicott City.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but one place has been open for a year and a half and I had no idea. Chef Paolino's (map) has been open for that long in its new location near the Ingleside Avenue park (near the corner of Ingleside and Old Frederick). That is its new location, having moved from the large complex that is overshadowed by Sam's Bagels.

Don't be daunted by its website - lots of gibberish. At least the menu pages work, kind of (just click on the "Subs and Sandwiches" link last). I went last week around lunchtime. It was pretty busy. I asked a passing couple if the food was good. After thinking for a sec they gave a resounding "Yeah!"

Once I figured out how to get in - apparently, one door is locked shut - I was faced with a sizable area to order my food, the only menus being portable and covered in plastic. Behind me, on the other side of the entrance, was a humongous, homey dining room filled with hungry diners. Families, coworkers, tourists - if Catonsville indeed has "tourists" - all noisily, talkatively finishing their food.

There are many options catering to every pocketbook, both cheap and more moderate eats. This isn't a "fine dining" sort of place, so nothing is terribly expensive here. At the same time, it is quite easy to spend $20 or $30 in one sitting. I spent about $10 on my lunch, but I could have easily spent more. Typical lunch offerings range about $7 to $11, dinner prices are about $3 to $4 more. Antipasti range from $2 to $8, and the pizza - rated by some on Chowhound as the area's best, goes by the slice ($2 to $3 depending on the slice), or by the pie (a small plain cheese pizza starts at $10, a large adds 4" to the diameter for only $1 more).

I finally decided on a slice of white pizza - this one with spinach and ricotta - for about $3, and the soup of the day - lentil - for $4.50. That seemed expensive until I saw the size of the bowl. I got a good bit of soup. Add a drink - soda ($1.50), though they also sell wine - and the total comes to around $10. Since it was a lovely day, I piled all my dishes on top of each other and went to one of the outside tables.

I started with the lentil soup. Far from the throwaway item I feared it would be - and at almost $5, that's an expensive throwaway item - it was a filling and tasty part of the meal. The soup wasn't too salty, and the lentils were a bit soft. I would order it again.

Chef Paolino's touts itself as having New York-style pizza. Again, I don't really eat pizza when I go to New York (I stick more to the hot dogs and street food), so I'm not a good judge. But I liked the white pizza. It was a little on the salty side but, again, I was satisfied with it. The ricotta was a nice surprise, because I don't normally expect it on my pizza. To me, it really overpowered the spinach. It was almost like it wasn't even there.

Overall I would definitely recommend Chef Paolino's. Watch out not to order too much, because you could easily order one thing here, another there, and before you know it you're spending $20 on yourself. But still go - you just have to hunt around a little to find it.