REVIEW: Fazzini’s Taverna – New & “Made Here” Italian

Fazzini’s Taverna opened in the early summer of 2015 on York Road in Cockeysville.

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Fazzini’s took over the location from what had previously been Piv’s Pub; they have kept Piv’s layout to a great degree but they’ve made some big changes consistent with being an Italian restaurant (and not the sports bar that served food which Piv’s had become).   Piv’s huge bar and seemingly dozens of flat screen TV’s (with the volume seemingly set to max) are gone; Fazzini has replaced it with a bar and a couple of TV sets (with the volume set quite low).  The space that has been freed up is now another dining room (and wonderfully one where you can hear the voice of the person on the other side of the table from you!).  As a result of the move and changes to the former Piv’s, Fazzini has seating for 200+ (compared to seating for 40+ at its prior location.  Even before the move from a small storefront just north off of Cranbrook, Fazzini’s had changed hands and Ari Brownstein bought it form the original owners.   Regardless between the base of fans for the earlier “Fazzini’s Italian Kitchen” and a rave review from the Baltimore Sun soon after it opened, Fazzini’s Taverna has been packing them in.   Even on a Wednesday evening in early September, there were few tables available and we were really glad to have had the foresight to make a reservation!   WIth it as crowded as it was, we were impressed that we were quicklly seated.

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An important thing to understand about Fazzini’s is that all the food served here – including the pasta – is made here (One of the advantages of being a single site restaurant and not part of a large chain!).  The menu is straight forward (though physically a bit challenging – the menu is approx 11″x 18″, landscape format, and has a hard backing which both doesn’t fold and weighs more than the equivalent paper/cardboard type menu)   The menu includes a half dozen “Snacks” ($5-$8), five hot appetizers ($9-$12), a half dozen entree salads ($11 – $17 with smaller $5 portions available for the standard Garden or Caesar salads), several soups ($6 for Tomato or Gazpacho, $8 for cream of crab), seven different pizza variations ($13-$15), a dozen different types of “made here” pasta (with your choice of fettuccine, rigatoni, cappellini, linguini, or whole wheat linguini;  for $4, you can add chicken, meatballs, sausage or mix veggies);  Finally, there are 10 “entrees” ranging from an $18 Eggplant or Chicken Parmigiana to a $26 Swordfish dish)

An interesting aside is that when taking drink orders, our server mentioned that Fazzini’s offered flavored -versions of ice tea with both tea and flavoring syrups sugar free ($3 with refills).  Equally intriquing one of the flavors availble included Mango.  With a long drive home facing me, this sounded like a great option on a warm end of summer evening.   Our server totally surprised me though when she brought the drinks, she brought the flavoring syrup in a small separate container and left it up to me to decide how much flavoring to add.  I thought that this was humongously thoughtful (and it just added to how impressed I was before the evening was over with the great level of service at Fazzini’s)

After considerable thought, our friend Miss M decided to start with a Caesar Salad ($5) followed by Rigatoni pasta with Chicken ($18).  Marty opted to start with Cream Of Crab soup ($8) followed by Shrimp Diavolo with whole wheat linquini ($22).   John – after consultation with our excellent server Kim – decided to try a highly recommend hot appetizer – Albondigas con almendras ($8 – pork/beef meatballs in a tomato red wine sauce topped with sliced almonds) followed by the Eggplant Parmigiana ($18 – and we received heads-up from our server that this special eggplant dish didn’t come with any pasta).

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The Caesar Salad was generously topped with fresh grated parmesan on top of the fresh, crisp dark romaine lettuce and got a “Thumbs Up!” from Miss M.

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Marty liked his cream of crab soup (which came with some saltimes)

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John’s meatball appetizer arrived bubbling hot in a small cast iron skillet and with several pieces of Fazzini’s “made here” bread.     “Albondigas con almendras” is a traditional dish with meatballs in an almond sauce.   Any recipes I could find afterwards for this dish served the meatballs with a smaller amount of a brown sauce.  The red wine sauce was delicous (perhaps the best part of the dish) and I put the chunks of bread to good use in mopping it up; the slivered almonds seemed to be a nod to the traditional name and seemed to offer little enchancement to the sauce or the meatballs (why not go totally non-traditional and add a bit of melted cheese on top?).   The meatballs themselves seemed very dense and firm (considering their role as an appetizer, I would have preferred them to be a bit lighter); they also seemed a tad overcooked on the bottom.   While I finished off my appetizer, I’m not sure that I’d be really tempted to try another starter – perhaps the intriguing Chickpea Fries ($7) or prosciutto wrapped end of summer melon ($8).

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The Rigatoni with Chicken proved to be very good (the portion was much larger than the plate with the wide rim would suggest).  The added chicken include big tenderloin pieces which had been grilled and quite delicious.   Miss M very much enjoyed her pasta and ended up taking more than half of the large portion home with her.

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Marty’s Shrimp Fra Diavolo included 6 shrimp in a spicy sauce with his choice of the whole wheat linguini.  Marty found the “made here” whole wheat linguini to be heavy and thick and mentioned that while he liked the shrinp and the sauce, he regretted his choice of the whole wheat pasta at Fazzini’s and wouldn’t order it again.

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John’s Eggplant Parmigana offered a very different version of this dish.   Typically, you find 1/2″ or deeper slices of Eggplant that have beeen breaded and fried topped with marinara sauce and most often served with a side of pasta.  In contrast, Fazzini’s version of this dish offered a tower composed of many very thin slices of eggplant layered with mozzarella and marinara sauce (it struck me that this was almost a new “eggplant lasanga” creation where the thin slices of eggplant replaced the lasangna pasta).  The eggplant was very rich and heavy and particularly after the meatball appetizer, delicioius as it was – I ended up taking more than half of it home with me.   (Caveat Diner!  As I was driving home after dinner, I suffered from some severe heart burn.  Given the mix of things that I had eaten, I couldn’t attribute the cause to any one dish, took an antacid and thought nothing more of it.   The following day, I had the eggplant that I had taken home for dinner and no sooner than it I finished it, I had another occurance of severe heart burn.  This kind of reaction – particularly after having Eggplant Parmigiana at other restaurants – has never happened – BUT you might want to think twice before ordering this if you have any stomach acid issues)

We had advised the hostess when making the reservation that we would be celebrating Marty’s birthday at Fazzini’s.   After dinner, they nicely offered him a small canoli with whipped cream and a couple of strawberries topped with a candle.  Totally unexpectedly, Fazzini’s owner and manager – Ari Brownstein visited our table to wish Marty a happy birthday.

Obviously this is a hands-on owner and manager and that attention to a level of detail like this – combined with stylish dining rooms, “made here” food an excellent service – probably explains why Fazzini’s Taverna has become so popular so quickly!

 

FACTS:  Fazzini’s Taverna – Cockeysville;  9811 York Road (a 1/4 mile above the intersection with Padonia Road); 410-667-6104;  http://fazzinis.com/  ;  Full Bar; Vegetarian Options; Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner;  Large free adjacent parking lot (entrance on south side of building); Note: Fazzini’s is quite popular – reservations for dinner are a good idea even on mid-week evenings when you might not guess you need them!

Fazzini's Taverna on Urbanspoon

 

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