Gino Troia, owner of Café Troia in Towson, created Emporio Grano out of two Hampden row houses in 2010 (tiny, original “Grano Pasta Bar” continues in business a few blocks west on “The Avenue”). Regardless that the chef was once the head chef at the Italian embassy, Emporio Grano feels casual and intimate. there’s a lounge and dining room on the main floor and two more dining rooms upstairs; the décor is “Italian farm house” with walls painted warm yellow walls and tables unadorned with fancy linens. Emporio Grano’s objective is to provide “an array of unadulterated, traditional and authentic Italian food using the best ingredients available” (many ingredients come from local farms that avoid use of additives). The menu includes 7 Antipasti ($4-$8), “to be shared” plates of meats or cheese ($13-$14), 9 pasta dishes ($15-$20), 6 Carne (Meat) entrées ($14-$40), and several side dishes (pasta, meatball, veggies for $6). While rustic Italian bread served with garlic infused organic olive oil is $2.50, a ¼ liter of house wines is a bargain $5. Our friendly, attentive waiter, Steven, got our attention with his recitation of specials (or did we just enjoy staring at him? )
Marty, John and our guest JT all started with the soup du jour – a seafood stew ($7) brimming over with clams, oysters, shrimp and chunks of fish – a delicious “mini cioppino”. We shared a basket of bread (which we used to mop our bowls clean!). For our entrees, Mary decided on Linguine Santa Lucia ($22 – pasta w/shrimp), JT on Orecchiette alla Barese ($19) and John on a veggie Lasagna special ($15). Marty’s “Santa Lucia” had a half dozen very large wonderful shrimp complemented by a delicious red pasta sauce. John’s Lasanga was cooked and served “single portion” style in a very deep ceramic bowl; it proved incredibly rich brimming with melted cheese surrounding the pasta, sautéed spinach and small chunks of acorn squash. JT’s Orecchiette pasta (Italian for “little ears”) with chunks of very tasty sausage and broccoli rab in a garlic infused olive oil proved equally satisfying. The attentive (and attractive) men on the staff kept water glasses filled and brought more bread.
While we were feeling full, our waiters suggestion of a “home made” nut cake tempted us into sharing a piece. The crunchy exterior with no frosting and a moist interior proved to be an excellent decision and left John & Marty sparring over the crumbs!
All in all, dinner at Emporio Grano left us with the certain glow that can follow a particularly satisfying meal. Definitely a “Thumbs Up!” experience, we’ll be back to Emporio Grano!
FACTS: Grano Emporio – Hampden – 3547 Chestnut Ave., 443-438-7521; Open for dinner 5 pm -10 pm (til 9 on Sunday); www.granopastabar.com ; full bar; veggie options; reservations only for parties of 10+ ( a wait for tables on the weekend is the norm and finding on-street parking in Hampden on the weekend can be a challenge!); Last DiningOUT visit: 2011/February