So many new (and fantastic) Italian spots in the City
My friends and I were texting saying, “Wait, are all of the new restaurants in Baltimore Italian?”
And, yes, lately, it seems like that. And for me — someone who’s never really sought out Italian food at restaurants — I am now truly converted. My annoying dairy, egg and gluten sensitivities (not allergies, mind you) are one reason I hadn’t really been a huge Italian restaurant fan. Till now.
Italians know how to enjoy life, right? Eating with people you love, eating food MADE with love, all of it feels good. Relaxing over dinner. No rushing. Sitting, talking, having dessert, too. One day, I’d like to visit Italy. I keep thinking maybe I can leave my life and move to Tuscany like Diane Lane’s character Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun or find a place to stay awhile, like Julia Roberts’ Liz in Eat Pray Love? Okay, probably not — but a girl can certainly dream.
So, onto the new Italian places I’d highly recommend.
To me, Marta is the best new restaurant to open in Baltimore in many years. And, I have to admit that I’m not the easiest person to wow. Put it this way: I like a lot of places — but I love only a small handful. I think I have told about 50 people how good Marta is.
From the quality, creativity and presentation of the food, ease of service and the classic décor, Marta is a home run. Doing all of those things well right out of the gate is almost unheard of. My favorite kind of service is warm, yet professional. You want to know that your server is a real person and that they also care about what they’re doing. Finding good staff is really, really hard these days and chef/owner Matt Oetting has done it. The staff is friendly and they take really good care of you — and at the same time, they are just polished enough (this side of stuffy, if that makes sense).
Marta is the kind of place to visit with a little group so you can all order different things and try each other’s dishes, both in appetizers and mains. I loved the crab carbonara and the beef tartare (very different, it’s nice and bright with the addition of beets) and all of the drinks I’ve had on three visits have been home runs. My favorites have been a dry vodka martini, an espresso martini and a mezcal negroni. All made perfectly. Get yourself to Marta. If you ever went to Salt in Butchers Hill, that’s the space. The redo created a classic, slightly upscale, neighborhood restaurant. I was telling a friend, Marta is not cheap but it’s not crazy expensive either. And if I’m spending $75 and up for my night out, it had better be worth it. This is.
Ah, Cafe Campli. What a complete gem. It opened in November 2022 and has been a very big hit since day one. They started out being open in the morning through just after lunch, then as they figured out when they were busiest, shifted to opening at 11:00am most days. They soon added dinner and happy hour. SO smart to start slow and build on hours, specials, as they got more sure-footed. Also, I must mention that the owners are two of the nicest people you will ever meet.
From the housemade pasta and focaccia to deviled eggs and more, the Abruzzi-inspired food at Cafe Campli is comforting, flavorful and perfectly portioned. My favorite thing so far has been the Alla Lanterna – lemon-butter spaghetti chitarra (long, grooved noodles) with roasted garlic, cauliflower + garbanzo puree (OMG so good) and anchovy breadcrumbs. My dining companion got that dish, but I stole a few bites and am 100% ordering that next time! Check them out on Instagram and be sure to follow their stories so you can see cocktails (including very nice non-alcoholic ones), happy hour specials and more. They’re even doing monthly Italian meetups so people can come together and work on their Italian language skills. I love that!
Allora was by far my best meal of 2022. I’d heard really good things about Allora from friends and also via social media, but I didn’t know much about it going in. I knew it was Roman-inspired, which we don’t have a lot of here in Baltimore and I heard it was from the family of the beloved Little Italy restaurant. As we enjoyed each dish, the meal got better and better.
I love the intimate “living room” kind of feeling of the space. (It’s the former home of Schola.)
So comfy and easy. Another thing I love? The menu is small. I hate huge menus, it’s just so overwhelming. To me, a tight menu shows both a point of view and restraint. I understand wanting to please a lot of people but it just feels unfocused. I went for lunch with two friends and we ordered a lot of different plates to share, my absolute favorite way to eat! The cacio e pepe was one of the best I’ve ever had and I also loved the prosciutto and fig toast – with ricotta, honey and red pepper flakes and Mortadella Involtata – mortadalla with ricotta, rocket, balsamic glaze, pistachio dust, microgreens. Both were wonderful and the flavors were full and very balanced. So, so good. I can’t wait to go for dinner soon. It’s BYOB, which for me, is always nice when wine is involved.
Yes, it’s the same Velleggia’s you may remember from Little Italy which opened way back in 1937. But now, it’s run by Frank and Nazzareno’s grandson Brendon Hudson and the new location is tucked into a nice little corner of Cross Street Market. And, yes, these are the same owners as Allora – and soon, Zander’s downtown in the former Alexander Brown space. These folks are BUSY and doing it all pretty nicely as far as I can tell.
The menu at Velleggia’s is a combination of some more modern dishes from Allora and other old school dishes from the old Velleggia’s like Saltimbocca (braised veal) and Maccharoni Alla Pescatore (linguine and seafood) to name a few. Of course, the pastas are made in-house everyday. One of my favorite things we had at dinner recently was a classic proscuitto and canteloupe. The melon was perfectly ripe and the proscuitto was light and pillowy. Highly recommend this as a starter, perfect for sharing. We also really enjoyed the shishito peppers and the panzanella salad was a real star, too. For an entree I chose red wine bucatini and I loved it – I’ve never had pasta like it before. There’s a small wine list and they can make you any classic or Italian-inspired cocktail you’d like. They also have a little bottle shop if you happen to be at Cross Street and want to take a bottle of Italian wine, beers, etc, home.
So, no…not all the new restaurants in Baltimore are Italian, but the new Itallian restaurants are pretty darn good. Highly recommend all four of these.