“Basta Pasta”, an “Olive Garden” clone, opened in March, 2010 taking over the space previously occupied by the dearly departed “Steak & Ale” restaurant in Timonium near the Maryland state fair grounds. While the outside of the old “Steak & Ale” has been updated with new warmer colored paint and new signage, the new owners have made minimal changes to the original faux “English Tudor” interior and depending where you’re seating, it looks disconcertingly the same. The handful of small dining rooms off a central hallway are still decorated with half-timbered, heavily stucco-ed walls and an assortment of stain glass windows under dark painted ceilings. The efforts to add a few unframed abstract landscape prints, some pottery and new contemporary sconces still leaves this new Italian restaurant with an identity problem. The menu is large and quite similar to other local “Olive Garden” clones and include a “bottomless” salad bowl and freshly baked garlic bread sticks with most entrées. The menu offers 20 starters ($7 – $15), a few soups ($4 / cup), some entrée salads ($11-$17), and dozens of entrées (most $15-$20). Whole wheat pasta is available for $2 extra. (FYI – Prices at this location are curiously dollars higher than at local Olive Garden restaurants!) It took us awhile to wade thru all the options while our friendly waitress brought our drinks and a group of college-age busboys cleared and set tables (the service staff wears all-black uniforms). After deliberation, Marty and John opted for featured house-specialties. Marty decided on Chicken Parmigiana ($16) while John ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana ($14). Our friend JT decided on Linguini with a creamy clam sauce ($17).
The salad was good (better than the Olive Garden equivalent …) with a chopped iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, onion and a few hot peppers and our waitress added a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese on top; the bread sticks were warm and smelled lightly of garlic. The combination made for a good start to our dinner (our waitress offered a refill of salad which the three of us gladly accepted!). Our entrées arrived and looked impressive. Both of the Parmigiana “specialty” dishes filled the large plates and were covered with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella and came with side dishes of spaghetti. Our initial good feeling about the entrées dissipated as Marty and John found the marinara sauce, with its bright red color and bland taste, seemed way too much like “Italian” flavored tomato puree out of a can). John’s eggplant was undercooked and he decided that the spaghetti with its uninspiring sauce wasn’t worth the calories. Marty was less than excited by the chicken he found under all of the melted cheese and sauce; he suspected that it might have come out of a box of frozen breaded chicken breast slices. JT not happy to find that his big plate of linguini had been liberally dusted with Old Bay; while this added eye appeal to the creamy white pasta served in a white bowl, it wasn’t something that the menu mentioned or that he would have opted for if he had been given a choice (JT managed to eat around the Old Bay but the cream sauce without the seasoning was rather bland). Later, our waitress made a valiant effort to tempt us into ordering dessert (a half dozen choices: $4 – $8) but the combination of salad, bread stick and our lack of enthusiasm for our entrées left us deciding to pass on her suggestions.
We all thought our server was friendly and attentive and that the included salad and bread sticks were above average. Marty, John and our friend JT were less than impressed with our “house specialty” entrées and we wouldn’t be tempted to order them again.
With so many Olive Garden (and Olive Garden clone) restaurants in metro Baltimore with as good (or better!) food at lower prices in more attractive dining rooms, we were left pondering who would want to pay a premium price for less than satisfying Italian food in dining rooms decorated in a partial faux Tudor style. In Italy, saying “Basta!” is the equivalent of “Enough Already! End of Discussion!” One wonders… did the owner realize “Basta Pasta” in Italy could convey “Enough Pasta! I don’t want Pasta!”… In any case, our experience seemed to indicate that “Basta Pasta” was aptly named and it just isn’t a restaurant that we’ll be rushing back to any time soon.
FACTS? Basta Pasta (Timonium); 60 W. Timonium Rd; 410-308-0838; Full Bar; www.bastapastamd.com; Vegetarian options; Open for lunch & dinner 7 days a week 11 am – 10 pm; Full Bar; Adjacent free parking; just off of Route 83 and close by to the Maryland Fair Grounds. (DiningOUT last visit: 2010/June)