Chef Paolino, a long time favorite at its location in downtown Catonsville (see our review of that location), has opened in 2014/August a new location off of Rte 40 in Ellicott City area. The new location is part of a small strip of stores tucked away and invisible from Rte 40 (FYI – It’s across the street from the entrance to the Shanty Grille and Sea King takeout). Owner Paul Delfico grew up outside of Naples, Italy before immigrating with his mom to the US is his early teens and getting involved in the restaurant business in New York city.
What’s not obvious immediately from the outside is that the new Chef Paolino Ellicott City location must be at least twice the side of the Catonsville location. There’s a huge dining room (as big as the entire Catonsville location!), a lounge/bar and a separate private dining room. The main dining room hosts the counter where you order and pay and a couple dozen booths and tables; the feel is contemporary with stack stoned walls, a fireplace at one end of the room and modern white pendant lighting (it’s very different looking from the homey, Italian-esque theme and wall murals in Catonsville) (FYI – as of August 14th when we visited, the lounge and private dining room are not yet open and still being worked on).
Similar to Catonsville, you enter and have the opportunity to check out the menu, then go up to the large counter, and place and pay for your order. At lunch, your receipt has a number on it which will get called over the speaker system for you to pick up – at dinner, you get a stand with a number on top which you place on your table and the staff brings your meal to your table. There’s a bank of self-serve fountain and ice tea drinks next to the counter.
Both the lunch menu and dinner menu here (and prices!) seemed the same as what we’re used to finding at the Catonsville location. At the counter, you can take in different examples of New York or Sicilian style pizzas (18″ range from $12 – $18), calzones and stomboll (both a bargain priced $5.75), and more! The dinner menu includes “made here” soups ($5), a dozen appetizers ($5-$9), six entree salads ($6-$10), eighteen pasta variations (Most $13 and include a side salad and garlic bread), and another eighteen Italian entrees ($15-$19 and include a side salad and garlic bread). One of the nice things about Chef Paolino is that you can get satisfying meal with a big calzone or couple of pieces of pizza with a soft drink for under $10.
We decided to go with our Chef Paolino favorites and see how Ellicott City versions compared to the Catonsville versions: John ordered the Eggplant “Parm” ($13) and Tom opted for an order of Mussels in tomato sauce ($9) and a Mista Verde salad ($8).
John’s side salad (smaller than in Catonsville!) include a half piece of garlic bread, some red onion and a peperoncini pepper (but no tomato) with house vinaigrette dressing on pieces of romaine lettuce.
Tom enjoyed his Mista Verde (much bigger than John’s side salad but still smaller than the Catonsville equivalent) was topped with lots of creamy goat cheese and slices of almond on top of field greens with honey balsamic vinaigrette.
The heaping bowl of mussels looked pretty darn impressive when they arrived but proved to be a mixed bag. While the spicy tomato sauce was full of pieces of onion and garlic and got a quick Thumbs-Up! (and had John using a mussel shell to scoop up the sauce!), the mussels themselves were a tad disappointing. They had to be some of the tiniest mussels we’ve had in a very long time (I don’t recall seeing any mussel that was bigger than the size of the Tom’s pinky fingernail). Such a great cooking sauce deserved better, bigger mussels!
In contrast to the mussels, John’s Eggplant Parm was a total “Thumbs Up!” with generous portions of pasta covered in lots of marinara sauce; the eggplant proved to 6 layers of thin sauteed eggplant topped with a thick layer of melted mozzarella. The portion was so generous that John took home half of it and got a delicious second meal out of it!
The new Ellicott City Chef Paolino, with a new staff and workers still finishing off the rest of the other rooms, shows a lot of promise. Fingers crossed that the tucked away, hidden from view location doesn’t deter people on the west side of town from finding the new Chef Paolino restaurant!
FACTS: Chef Paolino – Ellicott City; 3419 Plum Tree Dr; (410) 680-8087 ; http://ellicottcity.chefpaolinoscafe.com/; Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner; Limited bar – Wine and Beer; adjacent free parking