Squire’s Italian Restaurant started as a Dundalk tavern opened in the 1920’s by Fred & Lorraine Squire. In 1952, Joe & Mary Romiti bought it, kept the name, and their sons continue to own and manage the restaurant 50+ years later. We’ve heard that it’s an institution in Dundalk and after seeing a great show at the local community theater, we were looking forward to eating there. From the outside, Squire’s looks large and impressive. It’s large inside too, has several dining rooms and seats 300.
The restaurant touts its cozy open interior with an erstwhile “home away from home” style. (which raises the question of whose home all of this was based on! <Wink>) The walls of the dining room we were seated in were painted a light lavender, the carpet looked like it could benefit from deep cleaning and the ceiling could have used a little patching and painting. (Geez Louize! It seems almost un-gay to complain about a room with lavender painted walls but the color just didn’t help stimulate our appetites and it sure didn’t enhance Marty’s complexion! <Grin>).
Squire’s has a decent menu which features pizza ($7-$17), traditional Italian standards (mostly under $12) and sandwiches (mostly $4-$8). Of course, there are Maryland Crab and Cream of Crab soups ($5/bowl). There’s also 12+ appetizers ($4-$9). Marty lusted for and decided on Shrimp Parmigiana ($12), John opted for Chicken Cacciatore ($12), two other friends each voted for Chicken Parmigiana ($12) and a “foxy” friend decided on Grilled Pork Chops ($12). Our Italian dinners came with salad (choice of garden or Caesar) and pasta while our other friend got a side salad and Cole Slaw. Our waitress brought us our salads and some Italian bread (thick white slices vaguely reminiscent of Wonder Bread on steroids and with a heavier crust). Though she was busy, our waitress made the effort to keep our soft drinks and water glasses refilled.and checked in on us regularly. Our salads were pleasant enough and we felt we were off to a good start.
When our dinners arrived on a large tray, we took a double-take! The five Italian entrées looked virtually identical (all five topped with oodles of tomato sauce but none of the melted mozzarella that you expect on something Parmigiana).
Despite the similarities, We were VERY impressed that the waitress got the right dishes to the right people on the first try. The two pork chops looked nice but they also proved to be very well done and dry (which our friend didn’t want or appreciate). The abundant tomato sauce so in evidence proved to be a very plain tomato sauce – not bad but not gee-whiz good either and left us all wishing for a marinara sauce flavored heavily with some garlic, onion, basil, oregano and olive oil and something that didn’t quite taste like it had come out of a can of a supermarket’s generic store brand of pureed tomatoes! )
Marty was pleased with his shrimp (there were five big ones but he stared curmudgeonly at the tomato sauce while he hunted for melted cheese without much success). The two friends with the chicken parmigiana were impressed with the large chicken breast they received (which were breaded and fried but the plain tomato sauce and lack of cheese were also issues with their entrees). John’s Chicken Cacciatore raised significant definitional issues. ” Cacciatore” is Italian for “hunter” and chicken cooked “hunter style” usually means big hunks of a whole chicken are cooked with pieces of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and pepper. Squire’s version included a large chicken breast (whole and not cut up) and, after a thorough examination, all John could find on his entire plate was exactly one (1) tiny piece of onion and (1) tiny piece of pepper. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the Chicken Cacciatore he had yearned for either. Everyone’s pasta was equally ok (but covered with same oh-so-plain tasting tomato sauce).
There are some good things about Squire’s – portions are big, prices are comparatively cheap and the service was decent. But there were also dubious, not so good things – the tomato sauce that made a jar of generic supermarket sauce seem gourmet by comparison, the dried-out pork chops, the Italian kitchen that apparently doesn’t know what Chicken Cacciatore is supposed to be and the home-away-from-home style lavender walls, carpet that needs cleaning and ceiling that needs repainting. Is Squire’s in sync with neighborhood preferences and tastes that we’re out of sync with? Did we order the wrong things? Are we too picky? Are our expectations too high? Or maybe, just maybe, Squire’s just ain’t what it used to be? Who knows? Our meals were disappointing enough that we’re not sure that we’ll be returning to try to fathom out the answers.
FACTS? Squire’s Italian Restaurant (Dundalk),6723 Holabird Ave.; 410-288-0081; www.squirescafe.com; Closed Monday; Open Tues-Sun 8 am – 11 pm; Full bar; limited vegetarian options; adjacent parking lot. (DiningOUT Last Visit: 11/8/09)