Category Archives: Italian

Marchone’s Revisited

Marchone's Meatball Sub

Marchone’s Meatball Sub

I’ve said it before and I will now say it again: Marchone’s (11224 Triangle Lane) makes great subs. Especially the meatball, although their Italian sub did quite well in our taste test a few years ago.  Outside of Nava and Ruan, Marchone’s is probably our next most frequented Wheaton restaurant.  They aren’t really a “restaurant” — sandwiches, meats and cheeses, dry goods, some prepared frozen Italian foods like lasagne and eggplant parm — so maybe “food purveyor” or something.  Anyway, they’re good at what they do, and I hope they can survive the changing downtown Wheaton landscape.  I know a bunch of businesses may not survive once the triangle area goes under the construction knife, so I’m enjoying Marchone’s while I can…and am hopeful they’ll be there a long time yet.

Also, their cannoli are excellent.

holy cannoli

holy cannoli

Pacci’s Trattoria

Mixed early reviews led to moderate expectations, which were met, at least.  Pacci’s Trattoria & Pasticceria is in the old General Store space (6 Post Office Road, Forest Glen) (alas, Gillian Clark did not leave her fried chicken behind, but she didn’t leave the attitude either so I guess that’s a wash).  I think Pacci’s are about to do some remodeling, of the kitchen and the downstairs space, maybe it’s already being done.  Hadn’t happened yet when we dined there.

At the moment the space is immediately awkward, with nowhere to wait for your table; where the General Store had some space and a bench in front of the counter, Pacci’s put a four-top.  Makes sense for revenue, but not really a comfortable waiting area, especially since servers are constantly going back and forth with drinks and whatnot. Maybe this will be part of the remodel fix?

At least the service was fine, and our server in particular was very friendly and efficient. Pastas were all good and seem fresh-made; some extra saucy (spaghetti with dense, flavorful meatballs), some not saucy enough (pasta with shrooms and sausage). Everything tasted fine, and prices were lower than we expected, with most main dishes below $20. All ten or so wines are also affordable by modern restaurant standards — I think all under $40 — but nothing exciting.

So, I don’t know.  Not exactly what we were expecting, overall solid, not sure we will rush back but wouldn’t mind eating there again, and will be interested to see what changes are made, especially to the front of the upstairs and to the downstairs.

Brady’s “Humongous” Hoagies (Avalon NJ)

Is Avalon, NJ still standing?  The ocean may be permanently closer to town after Irene, which was expected to erode some of the beach.   Lucky for us, we were there the previous weekend.  Didn’t eat out much (Mrs. Senior Me and I cooked up some delicious basil spaghetti, among other meals), but did get an Italian sandwich at Brady’s Hoagies (6740 Ocean, no website but here’s Yelp), and as one might expect of a hoagie from the Jersey/Philly nexus, it was fantastic.  Roll: crusty outside but not too crusty, and soft inside but not too soft.  Good ratio of meats to cheeses to onion/lettuce/tomato.  No mayo, as it should be.  Zesty dressing.  I am confident Brady’s would have easily won last summer’s DC area Italian sub taste test, which was won somewhat improbably by Vace.

Brady’s is half convenience store, half deli. Kind of expensive, almost $10 for a footlong sandwich, and assembly took about three times as long as, say, Wheaton’s own Marchone’s. I figure the high price is a Jersey shore-in-summer thing, not specific to Brady’s — plus given the quality, it isn’t a totally unfair price. The sign outside says “Home of the Humongous Hoagie” but there’s no mention of that anywhere in any of the online reviews I found.  They do make a “humongous” 24-inch sandwich, so it isn’t false advertising. But you don’t get any kind of bulk discount: the 24-incher costs twice as much as the footlong. Their potato salad is also pretty good, though could use more pickle or vinegar or something like that.

St. Elmo (Feels Like) Fire

Chef Tony’s (4926 St. Elmo, Bethesda) has been open nearly four years (says the informative if cluttered website), but we discovered it only recently, and it is really a hidden gem.  If you can be “hidden” right in the middle of St. Elmo Avenue, that is.

A Mediterranean joint with a seafood focus, Tony’s is (like many restaurants these days) all about fresh, local ingredients, but unlike some, they seem to be serious about it. For example, they make their own buffalo mozzarella, and it is super-creamy, fresh, fantastic.  The calamari (not local?) is also fresh and perfectly cooked, even creamy-textured (to a lesser degree than the mozza), not at all rubbery, and expertly fried, though still a bit greasy for Mrs. Me’s taste (I loved every last crumb).  Plus they give you the tentacles (the best part), not just rings like some places do.

We also enjoyed the crab pasta, lots of fresh crabmeat and perfect al dente pasta — pretty sure the pasta was from a box, not fresh-made, but that’s about the only thing that wasn’t clearly fresh.  Pan-seared sole in parmesan crust over mashed potatoes with big salty capers was also a winner.  Nearly everything was delicious, down to the large cannoli we ended with.  We also got a square of cheesecake to go, and that was the only item we didn’t think was great — texture was fine, but flavors were off; it was supposed to be a melange of a couple of fruits, but didn’t work for our tastebuds.

Service was friendly but we encountered some odd delays. They didn’t seem understaffed — multitudes of black-clad staff were constantly zipping all over the floor — but maybe they were.  The space is a little awkward, with essentially two separate rooms, one in front and one in back, separated by a bar with a narrow passage.  Even though the timing was sometimes off, it didn’t affect our food, which arrived hot and fresh.

The only other drawback was the temperature, which was authentically Mediterranean-in-August; the calamari in the fryer wasn’t too many degrees higher than us at our table.  Ceiling fans were rotating full steam but either the air conditioning was broken, or maybe there isn’t any, or maybe they’re just trying to save a little money; in any case, by the end of the meal, I was sweating, not a vindaloo kind of sweat, but a hot-restaurant-with-insufficient-AC sweat.  Kind of unpleasant.

The food was fab, and we will for sure be visiting Chef Tony’s with more frequency, but not until the weather cools down (so, maybe late October?).

General Store –> Pacci’s

Taste of Wheaton tomorrow, possible rain and thunder but a 100% chance of pupusas.  I will be there with my umbrella beanie and a roll of $1 bills. In preparation, the fasting starts….now.

In the meantime, Bethesda Magazine reports that the Forest Glen space recently evacuated by the General Store will be filled by Pacci’s Trattoria and Pasticceria, the latest venture by the owner of Pacci’s Neapolitan Pizzeria in SS (and GM of Mrs. K’s).  Low-key relatively affordable Italian, “mom’s and grandma’s recipes” — sounds intriguing.  Opening in 6-8 weeks sounds like. (h/t Silver Spring, Singular, who apparently reads Bethesda Magazine so we don’t have to!)

Maggiano’s Not-So-Little Italy

Unless by “little” they mean “enough calories to feed a triathlete for a week, if the triathlete is a elephant.”  We kept finding ourselves in NoVa over the weekend, and for lunch one day we ended up at Maggiano’s Little Italy at Tyson’s Galleria (shudder).  I had never been to any MLI; I thought the food was okay but really heavily sauced (volume and consistency) and supersized portions. Veal parmagiana, for example, tasted fine, but there was probably close to a pound of veal on the plate, plus a huge bowl of mediocre spaghetti, and a total of about 1500 calories.  A couple of people got the lasagna, said it was okay: 1920 calories. A half portion of spaghetti and sausage with meat sauce is 1940 calories.

You won’t find these calorie counts on the menu, or at the website — they don’t make it easy! — but a few enterprising people have tracked them down and posted them elsewhere on the internets, see at the end of this post. Maggiano’s is not any more guilty of overcalorification than any other large national chain, from Cheesecake to TGI to Outback; they’re all more or less the same, which is merely one of several reasons I try to avoid all of them.  And I think they will all be covered by forthcoming federal regulations (proposed rules issued this past Friday) requiring large national chains to include calorie info on their menus (see e.g. WaPo here).

If you must ingest a day’s worth of calories (not to mention saturated fat and sodium) at one sitting, and if you insist on doing it at a national chain, then Maggiano’s is a reasonable candidate. I guess. Though service was also meh: our waiter had no idea who ordered what, resulting in the dreaded “auctioning” of dishes when they arrived at the table.

At least the company was enjoyable, and that’s what really counts, right?  And I suppose if you look at it from a dollar-per-calorie perspective, we got our money’s worth.

MLI calories p1

MLI menu p2

MLI calories p2

MLI calories p3

MLI calories p3

Marchone’s Meatball Sub: Anatomy of a Dish

Marchone’s Italian sub did well in our greater DC taste test, and all their sandwiches are at least solid, but their meatball sub is the best.

Marchone's Meatball Sub

A bad photo of a delicious sub

Why so good? Hard to say, since really it is conceptually so simple: meatballs in sauce with a little cheese on a roll.  Partly it is the soft yeasty-sweet rolls, imported from Amoroso’s in Philly; you would think it would be easy to get the bread right, but so many delis get the bread so, so wrong. The meatballs don’t look like much, golf ball-sized medium-brown spheres, but they are really soft and delicious. Hard to say what kind(s) of meat are involved, surely some pork at least? A tiny bit of oregano, salt and pepper of course, some breadcrumbs, and likely milk too. The result is excellent, whatever is in there.

The sauce is good too, a little on the sweet side of the spectrum but subtly so. Really the sauce takes a backseat to the meatballs and roll, holding it all together. Also, cheese: I always get parmesan, but they offer provolone too, either way the small hit of cheese adds a bit of salt and texture, but it is really about the meat and bread.

With all these new restaurants opening in Wheaton, it is easy to forget about some of the places that have been here for decades, but Marchone’s (11224 Triangle Lane) is worth remembering, especially for meatball sub fans.

Dino: Still Mostly Amore

Dean Gold has cut off most of his hair and beard since we last visited Dino in Cleveland park, and the food quality may have been cut a bit as well, though it may also just be what we ordered. I have always felt Dino is underrated by Sietsema and some other professional reviewers, and by some friends too. It may not be as good as Bibiana, but it is still usually very good.

This visit I didn’t order my usual wild boar papardelle, and maybe the lesson is that I should have. Instead I tried the scottiglia, a stew of wild boar, pork, and duck; the meat was perfectly tender and it tasted good, but I felt the flavors and overall quality weren’t much different from stews I make at home (though I don’t normally have duck or wild boar lying around).  Mrs. Me’s risotto was not something I could easily recreate at home and she liked it fine, but it lacked any particular excitement. Our starters — deviled eggs and wild boar prosciutto — were similarly good but didn’t leap off the plate. On the other hand there was nary a crumb of anything left when we were done, so I guess that says something.

Service, on the other hand, which has been spotty in the past, was laudatory: while mulling options, Mrs. Me wondered aloud about the possibility of adding mushrooms to the risotto and Dean, standing nearby, overhearing, said sure, they can do that, and they did. Our server was always available yet unobtrusive, clearly explained dishes, dinner was seamless.  And the wine (this night, negroamaro and primitivo) was delicious as always.  Funny how great wine makes everything better…

Escalators, Hollywood East, Cristina

Wheaton Metro’s escalators continue to frustrate, they were all out this morning (again).  I don’t mind walking down in the morning, but having to walk up in the evening is frustrating, especially when one (and only one) of the escalators is fully operational — but running down, against evening rush traffic, as was the case one night last week.  That’s not an equipment problem, that’s just bad management.

In happier and more-food-related news, Hollywood East makes the Washingtonian “Great New Restaurants” list (October 2010 edition, article not online as far as I know).  I suppose it is a new location, anyway, and it is nice to have HE back in Wheaton’s excellent Chinese restaurant mix. The reviewer notes steamed lingfish and honey-walnut shrimp as favorites, in addition to the much-lauded dim sum.

Also, Patch likes Cristina Ristorante Italiano (2666 University); I mostly agree with their assessment that the service is fabulous, the setting is charming, and the food is a mixed bag: mediocre-to-good (in my opinion) and not always living up to the price tag. I do appreciate the fact that the owners are local and longstanding and friendly; you could certainly do much worse for Italian food.

 

Flying Spaghetti Taco Monster

I had never heard of iCarly until today, so maybe I am the last to find out about the apparent spaghetti taco craze.  It’s creative, and I can see the appeal to kids: weirds out the adults, something different, messy.* Two great tastes, but do they really taste great together? I am skeptical. I’m all for creativity, but just because something is creative doesn’t mean it is a good idea.  Fusion cuisine may have shark-jumped for the pre-teen set as well as for adults. I’m not the kind of person who insists that each food item must be separate on the plate — no touching! — but some combinations work, and some don’t.  I will reserve final judgment until the unlikely event I actually eat a spaghetti taco.

Mostly this is just more evidence, as though we needed more evidence, that television is enormously influential.

I should note that this is not the first time spaghetti has been combined with foreign substances, e.g. Cincinnati two-way (or more) chili, the appeal of which also eludes me. I like spaghetti, I like chili…but not together. On the other hand, I eagerly await the advent of spaghetti sushi.  Rice, spaghetti, what’s the diff?

* the NYT article linked above quotes a college professor of pop culture as saying “spaghetti tacos has** made it possible to eat spaghetti in your car” — which is true in the sense that the taco makes the spaghetti initially easier to hold, but is nonsense in that the taco will quickly shatter and you’ll have spaghetti all over you and your car. Good luck with that!

** shouldn’t this be “spaghetti tacos have,” tacos being plural? Or does he mean the concept of tacos?