Restaurant Review: Café Mezzanotte Ristorante & Lounge
Sep 07, 2016 02:36PM ● Published by Arden Haley
760 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park // 410-647-1100 // cafemezzanotte.com
Open Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., , Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., and Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Lounge daily ’til midnight. Major credit cards accepted; reservations suggested; wheelchair accessible, outdoor dining, happy hour Mon.–Fri. 4–7 p.m., carry-out available.
Café Mezzanotte adds (and matches) 25 cents as a donation to Myfoodbridge.org, an online food rescue system that benefits the nonprofits feeding the underserved in our community.
If a high-traffic location is the key to a successful restaurant, Café Mezzanotte is an exception to the rule. Although this Italian eatery is along busy Route 2 in Severna Park, its placement can make it easy to miss. I would suggest paying more attention to what is a delightful destination—whether for happy hour in the lounge, dining al fresco on the patio, or celebratory group gatherings inside the 250-seat restaurant.
While Café Mezzanotte has been in business for years, executive chef/owner Kosmas Koukoulis’ bold embrace of the trendy farm-to-table philosophy is reflected in a menu that lists 16 regional suppliers of fresh vegetables, hydroponically-grown lettuces and herbs, antibiotic-free poultry and meats, and wild-caught seafood. All food is organic and, in another nod to dietary awareness, the kitchen stands ready to prepare gluten-free versions of most menu items.
Koukoulis is the executive chef on a culinary team that includes veteran working chef Fidencio Protillini and manager David Bremer. The trio functions well together, creating a seasonal menu that puts a twist on the classics of Italian cooking and offers three or four nightly specials based on freshness and availability. Intriguing is an apt description of the scope of that menu, which is conveniently divided into sections.
Antipasti, 20 items from the lounge and dinner menus as well as carry-out, are available in small or large portions, ranging in price from $6–13. A reflection of the kitchen’s culinary creativity, choices range from familiar specialties like bruschetta, meatballs, and Oysters Rockefeller to pasture-raised bison brisket, mushrooms, and mascarpone cheese tucked into a puff pastry purse; flash-fried, off-the-stalk Brussel sprouts, or long-stemmed artichokes; eggplant rollatini and skewered and grilled pecan-encrusted chicken breast paired with a fig-infused port wine sauce.
Adventuresome diners could stop right here, and have fun taste testing without making a commitment to a single main course. While deciding where to go next, I followed the advice of our knowledgeable server and ordered a flight of wines, two-ounce pours of three whites (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay) for $12.50, elegantly presented in goblets secured on a custom-made wrought iron “wine tree” with a card describing each one in the order of the lowest-placed glass to the highest. Flights are fun—and they’re a good way to sample a variety of styles.
The restaurant’s wine list, personally selected by Koukoulis, includes 100 bottles and 25 pours by the glass. Just reading his lyrical description of each wine is, at once, entertaining and educational. Overall, pricing is reasonable in today’s market—low-ending at $6 a glass for house reds and whites and rising to $13 a glass for a Nebbiolo red, made from the same grape as a pricier Barolo. Wines from Italy predominate, although vineyards from California winemakers as well as Greece, New Zealand, and, even, Maryland are represented on what gets my vote as one of the industry’s most interesting line-ups.
What to pair with your choice of wines is an adventure here, where an extensive menu features Italian classics with a twist. “We believe in preparing all of our foods, whenever possible, with locally sourced, sustainably grown or raised and certified organic ingredients,” the menu states, which also lists its 14 suppliers, their products, and the distance between them and Severna Park. The owner’s decision to embrace this philosophy was a moral decision. “I realized it was important to feed my customers as I feed my family,” says Koukoulis. “When we made the switch, food costs rose and our profit declined—but over time our volume has increased to even it out.”
With three men involved in planning the menu, expect variety. For starters, we swooned over two soups: one, an asparagus truffle bisque, enlivened with ramp (wild leeks), honey, cream; the other Tomato Tortellini, a satisfying marriage of cheese-filled pasta, mushrooms, and artichoke in a tomato sauce. We also sampled a sautéed jumbo shrimp sauté called Shrimp Gondola.
Salads are available as a first or main course, the latter jazzed up with a savory choice of chicken, grilled wild salmon filet, scallops and spinach, tenderloin, or tuna—appealing choices for health-conscious diners. Meat lovers have a choice of a bison short rib, grilled pork chop with a pistachio crust and seared peach garnish, or a grilled leg of lamb steak in a wine demi-glace. Believe me, I’ll be back for that—and for other intriguing choices on the eclectic bill of fare.
But sticking to Mezzanotte’s theme, we perused the multiple pasta preparations, categorized on the menu as “Nuevo” and “classic.” My dining partner went classic with a choice of lasagna, covered by a rich tomato sauce on an oblong plate. I enjoyed a flawless scallop risotto and a pretty and delicious Pollo Mezzanotte—grilled chicken breast simmered with tender artichokes, red peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus bedded on cappellini pasta lightly bathed in a savory white wine-tomato sauce.
Desserts here are simple. We liked the chef’s version of tiramisu; other options included Nona’s Cake, and fresh strawberries and sabayon sauce, made a la minute in the kitchen. We lingered over very good coffee, content in comfortable chairs and soothed by the thoughtful and savvy service of our young water. My visit to Café Mezzanotte was a revelation—a great introduction to a restaurant whose owner is committed to the well-being of his clients, as well as the environment.