Bay Bites
Get Your Fill at Romano's Macaroni Grill
by Gabby Crabcakes

It took some coercing on a prime weekend night to get me to Romano's Macaroni Grill, a chain restaurant at the Annapolis Mall. Friends had recommended it, and it was late (9:30pm) so I relented.

I was pleasantly surprised.Macaroni Grill

Sure there were hoards of patrons milling around the hostess stand (a warning of what to expect at more traditional hours). Sure the noise was elevated to chaotic levels. But, once seated, you discover the energy is contagious, and the chaos becomes tempered by the highly efficient waitstaff.

There's some individuality in Romano's concept. Supposedly continuing an Italian family tradition, the large dining room (seating over 250) has high ceilings, stone walls (except where windowed or covered with large jugs of the house wine), cement floors, white table cloths topped with white paper for doodling and vases of white gladiolas. The kitchen is open and very active with lots of yelling and staged grill fires. Amidst the madness is music that reminded me of Disney World - Epcot Center, perhaps.

Our proficient server oriented us to the menu and offered personal favorites. To start, we decided against the tempting wine list in favor of the house Chianti. Any of the house wines - Chianti, blush or bianco - is brought in a large jug and left at your table. It's an honor system and a great value at $3.25 for each large refill.

The menus supposedly change with the seasons, but ours was still Winter 1998. On it is a wide variety of traditional Italian favorites as well as, Romano Family Recipes. There is also a children's menu.

To tide you over while reviewing the menu and the nightly specials, a personal loaf of house foccacia is delivered. A warning: tempting as it may be, don't fill up on the bread!

With some struggle, we decided to start with one of the house recipes, the calamari fritti ($6.99) a generous serving of large and small calamari rings fried in Italian breadcrumbs and served with a spicy marinara and a basil aioli sauce as a nice alternative. I spied a beautiful bruschetta pass by with grilled garlic bread topped with bright red tomato and basil ($5.49).

For the entree the options included homemade wood-burning oven pizza, polame (chicken), pesce (seafood), carni (meat) and pasta. There's also a nice selection of salads, the best deal being the addition of a house or Caesar salad with any entree for only 99 cents.

Forgoing the saltimbocca di vitello (veal with smoked prosciutto and spinach with pasta, $12.29) and the salmone alla griglia (grilled filet of salmon with a honey teriyaki glaze, served with oven-roasted potatoes and vegetables, $14.99), we decided on the recommendations of our server. I had the cannelloni di pollo (pasta rolls filled with grilled chicken, ricotta, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, baked in a light tomato cream sauce) for $8.99. Not a low-calorie serving, I can assure you. Creamy and rich, it was worth every calorie (I only finished one of the three rolls).

My companion ordered the penne rustica, a house special served with shrimp, grilled chicken and smoked prosciutto in a creamy cheese sauce with parmesan and baked ($10.99). This dish was brought to life by the smoky and grilled flavors of the chicken and prosciutto with the addition of large shrimp. A perfect dish to warm you up on a rainy or snowy evening.

As if there was room left, a dessert tray was available for review. We passed!

We've all heard the adage, "nothing ventured nothing gained." In this case, I overcame my fears of the tired old chain restaurant and gained a new appreciation - plus a few pounds to boot!


Romano's Macaroni Grill
Jennifer Rd. at Annapolis Mall; 410/573-1717

Proprietors: Brinker International, Dallas, TX

Reasons to go: Good food, good value and great acoustics.

Something to think about: Claustrophobes and those fearing Who concerts should plan to dine off-peak.

| Issue 15 |

Volume VII Number 15
April 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times

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