Issue: May 2007
GALLEYS ASHORE: Pasta Paradiso

It may have been a hot and muggy August day, but that wasn't going to keep me from pursuing pasta. Ever since we passed under the Francis Scott Key bridge that afternoon, I had been inwardly salivating over the thought of going to Little Italy. We weren't wearing our Sunday best, but I had heard there was at least one casual joint in the neighborhood. Our hosts at Inner Harbor East sent us straight to Amicci's--Little Italy's "Very Casual Eatery."

We walked up High Street--dodging the bustling parking valets from the upscale Italian restaurants that line that street, and found Amicci's easily. It's hard to miss, with its neon purple and yellow sign in the window and the crowd out front waiting for tables. We headed in and were given a 20 minute wait time. Not bad for a Saturday night--and thank goodness for the short wait, because space was tight in the small entrance hall of this converted row house. (Their new bar was still under construction and didn't provide extra waiting space.) We were seated in about ten minutes and sat in their front dining room which is small and cozy with a view of High Street.

Our waitress told us about their signature appetizer, the pane rotundo--a two-inch-thick disk of crispy, freshly baked bread, topped with jumbo shrimp and a creamy garlic scampi sauce. We couldn't resist, and as we devoured it, I could only think of one word: Heaven.

Posters of Italian-theme movies adorn Amicci's dining room walls, but what caught my eye was an aerial picture of a crowd in lawn chairs watching a movie projected onto the side of a row house. Turns out it was taken during a showing at the Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival, a regular gig on Friday nights during July and August.

Amicci's menu is fairly simple: classic dishes like, lasagna and chicken marsala, seafood selections (mostly shrimp dishes), and vegetarian dishes like gnocchi and penne primavera. Most entrees come atop the pasta of the day.

John had the lasagna, which was aptly described on the menu as "grandmotherly." It was an enormous serving and appropriately topped with a thick layer of bubbling hot cheese . . . comfort food extraordinaire. I chose the pasta Carlo--jumbo shrimp, spinach and prosciutto in a white wine marinara sauce. The shrimp was juicy and flavorful and the sauce delicious. I just couldn't pass up a chance at a homemade Italian dessert. I asked our waitress what she recommended, and she told me that they only had cannolis. (And that if we wanted dessert, we should really head to the nearby bakery.) I figured the bakery would be packed, so I opted for Amicci's cannoli. And it was just what I had in mind--fresh, homemade and sweet.

More recently, on a cold winter night, I had a yen for some hearty food, so we drove up to Baltimore for a second taste of Amicci's. I was surprised to find a wait on a Tuesday night, but we were assured it wouldn't be long, and this time around we got to wait in their new bar. It was very cool . . . a backlit wall highlighted the top-shelf liquors, and the twinkling lights in the ceiling changed colors as if we were in a giant limo.

We skipped the signature appetizer this time and had some calamari to start out instead. It was quite good, but was no pane rotundo. For dinner I tried the shrimp and broccoli alfredo, which was tasty, but after only a few bites, satiated by the heavy sauce, I turned my attention to the shrimp. John had the shrimp cacciatore, which was excellent.

I plan on eating here again next time I'm in Baltimore on the boat. It's just a short walk away from several marinas and well worth the wait. And next time we'll try to go on a Friday night--catch an al fresco movie with a take-out meal. Heaven.

--Ann Levelle

Amicci's is located at 231 S. High Street in Little Italy, just a few blocks from the
Inner Harbor and several marinas. There are private rooms for parties and reservations are accepted. Open daily 11 a.m.– midnight. (A lunch menu is served weekdays 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner menu all other times.) Lunch $6.90–$9.50; appetizers $3–$9; entrees $10.90–$18.90. Major credit cards accepted. 410-528-1096; www.amiccis.com.