Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rock Me Amadeo's - an extended review of Osteria da Amedeo in Little Italy

Below is the unedited version of the review I did for the Baltimore Sun's Midnight Sun blog. Above is the original artwork.

Osteria da Amedeo

Psst ... I found an oasis among the dining hubbub of Little Italy. Don't tell anyone.
Osteria da Amedeo glided in under the radar a few months ago. It's called a wine bar, but it isn't really. The last osteria in the neighborhood was an Italian sandwich shop. A true osteria is an Italian tavern that serves simple food and wine. That describes Amedeo's perfectly.
So much of Amedeo's charm is about what it is not. Not an oenophile snobfest. No oo'ing, cooing, or gurgling over monster goblets of Chateau Loutre Songeuse.
If you wanna get your Jäger on with your brosephs or compare body piercings with your skate-punk buds, this is not the place. Wanna troll the skankosphere? Not here. Wanna slip into a smooth jazz coma with an appletini? Nope. It's a normal bar that feels of the neighborhood, but offers something complementary to the LI scene.
It has a relaxed European feel that you rarely see here. Americans usually get that wrong with gimmicks, forced vibe, and cliché decoration. There are no gimmicks or affectation here.
Fellow Little Italians said I should check it out. "Where Pepino's was?" I asked. Nah. I put it off because I couldn't see how they could do much with the dive bar that was there.
I dropped in and was blown away by the transformation. Then I did something selfish -- I kept it to myself for a while.
The physical changes are stunning. The walls painted with nicotine and a grim black ceiling are gone. A beautiful white tin ceiling has been restored. There is much exposed brick and handsome dark wood. The space seems much bigger. There is a charming little back room suitable for conspiracies, trysts, and hullabaloos.
On my first visit the owner was bartending. He was friendly, unpretentious, and laid back. The three regular bartenders have a similar demeanor.
The crowd, never throbbing, is skewed younger than the hip-impaired bocce ballers you might imagine. Conversation happens at Amedeo's and for me that's better than sport X on a giant TV. People pop in for a drink and move on home or to another destination in the neighborhood.
This is not a tourist joint. It's fun to meet tourists in Little Italy restaurant bars -- until it's not. The question, "Are you a local?" makes me cry inside a little. Why? Because it often means that people will offer cliché inquiries like, "You don't look Italian. How can you live here?" Oh, Hank from Sheboygan, not tonight.
The scene at Amedeo's is whatever people bring to it on a given night. On various nights I watched Roy Halladay throw a no-hitter, listened to a woman talk about her baby's enormous head and Michigan or was it Minnesota football, ran into some old friends, went on a grappa safari, etc.
The wine selection is respectable, focusing on affordable Italian wines.
They plan to keep the food selection basic. Panini are $7, a plate of olives and cheese is $4, and bruschetta is $4. There are seven panini, with creative combinations of imported Italian meats and cheeses, fresh mozzarella, olive tapenade, baby field greens, tomato, and turkey. They use an excellent rustic Italian bread that is baked specially for them.
I recommend the Italiano or Parmacotta panini. I was never a panini fan, but these are delicious.
On a recent visit I did a tour of Italian digestifs and grappas. Digestifs, unlike apéritifs, are served after a meal to promote digestion. Because they often have a strong bitter herbal taste, they are an acquired taste. I love them.
Welcome to the Bitter Zone -- Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'entrate.
Limoncello is a very sweet Italian liqueur, traditionally made from Sorrento lemons. The Sicilian limoncello at Amedeo's had an uncommon creamy taste and texture. Definitely the best I have ever tasted.
Cynar is an Italian bitter liqueur made from 13 herbs and plants, with artichoke as the dominant flavor. It's very artichokey. I like it, but it's an acquired taste.
Fernet-Branca is an amaro, a bitter, aromatic liquor. Fernets are made from herbs and spices including myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron. It's a mule kick of bitter pleasure. You will not forget this flavor.
Ramazzotti Amaro is a medium style amaro. Very good.
Amaro Averna is produced in Sicily. Herbs, roots, and citrus peel create a complex sweet, thick, smooth bitterness.
Grappa is a brandy made from pomace -- what's left after grapes are pressed for wine. Bad grappa is often justly compared to kerosene. These grappas are good to excellent.
Banfi -- smooth and reminiscent of many Balkan brandies like raki/rakia/rakie. It even resembles Slivovitz in aroma. It tastes clean and uncomplicated. True grappa.
Alexander -- has a distinctive smell that evokes immature wheat and fresh human blood. I know how that sounds; think of biting your cheek, not vampirism. Decent taste.
Nonino -- A pleasant seductive aroma of exotic fruits. Passion fruit? Watermelon Starburst? Much smoother taste. This is a real treat, exceptional.
The owner said that he is planning to increase his stock of these eccentric liquors. I hope he does.
-- A printed list of wines by the bottle and glass. Currently they are going through a process of natural selection, listening to customers before making a set list.
-- Wi-Fi -- not essential, but it would be nice. I was told that it is coming.
-- Some better beers. I know it's not a beer bar, but how about an IPA at least. Until then Moretti la Rossa will have to do.
Tourists seem to love Amedeo's because they feel it's the total Little Italy experience -- rubbing elbows with locals and getting that East Coast ethnic experience that you don't get at the Olive Garden in Omaha. As one said to me, "I always wanted to hang with some pie-zones."
Amedeo's is part of a gentle metamorphosis in Little Italy. Many people have said, "The neighborhood really needed it." I agree.  The addition of Isabella's, Max's Empanadas, and now Amedeo's adds variety for residents and visitors.
Amedeo's is the sparrow on my windowsill. Not flashy, loud, or exotic, but its presence makes my world a little better.
Osteria da Amedeo
301 S. Exeter Street at Fawn Street, one block east of High Street in Little Italy
Monday - Friday - 4:30 p.m. - 1 a.m.
Saturday 11:30 - 1 a.m.
Closed Sundays
They may be open for lunch on weekdays in the future.


Filomena said...

I loved this little place and felt at home the moment I stepped in the door. I love Amaros and good grappas but they are a rare find in Baltimore, although there are some exceptions. It's a great place to pass the time, chat with friends and sip a little vino. It reminded me so much of some of the places I've been to in Italy and Sicily. I think it is a great addition to Little Italy.

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