It’s tough to get simple Italian food right in the restaurant world, a sad fact any paisan with a jones for mamma’s cooking will confirm. But when a restaurateur knows what he or she is doing, there’s nothing quite so satisfying, so comforting, so positively nostalgia-laden as a good trattoria—or, as the case may be, enoteca (which means “wine repository”).
Sam Curreri has been doing it right at Sammy’s Trattoria in Mount Vernon for 10 years, and now he’s opened a sister restaurant, er, enoteca, in Fells Point. Good news, Italophiles. His second joint, which opened in spring 2016, is the real deal, slightly more casual than the flagship but firmly rooted in the same culinary tradition: food that is unfussy and absolutely redolent of good homemade red sauce. First, let me tell you about the meatballs.
“Veal/Pork/Beef/Gorgonzola” reads the list of ingredients. These soft bombs yield easily to the fork and melt in the mouth, and they’re probably the best I’ve tasted in Baltimore. On offer as an antipasto, they’re topped lightly with tomato sauce and come three on a plate for six bucks. For the same price, you can get a ridiculously hearty bowl of creamy risotto. We tried the basil-spiked version sprinkled with pine nuts. Another winner was the burrata Caprese salad, with its massive ball of burrata sitting atop bright cherry tomatoes and arugula. Spread the cheese over the delightful slices of grilled Italian bread that arrive at the table as soon as you sit down, and that’s a meal.
Those with bigger appetites will have a hard time choosing from the list of 15 pastas—from classic carbonara to squid ink tagliatelle fra diavolo. I picked the Love Letters, a variation on Mario Batali’s homemade ravioli stuffed with mint and Parmigiano-Reggiano, here sauced with pomodoro, sausage, and mint ragù. Heavenly.
My friend, Sara, chose homemade gnocchi topped with a bolognese of boar, pork, and veal, which, upon sampling, made me vow to try every pasta on the menu. But on another visit, I opted to be prudent and ordered a beautiful fish—the red snapper francese, dusted with flour and enrobed in a lemon, white wine, and capers sauce. A chicken Calabrese was an even heartier version of cacciatora, piled with potatoes, sausage, peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
Being an enoteca, this Sammy’s has a compact but exemplary all-Italian wine list, packed with good values and available by the glass in 3- and 6-ounce pours. Our server guided us toward a lovely Puglian Primativo, but there are at least a dozen similar gems in the $30 range. Desserts, too, are really good. Even the de rigueur but often-tired tiramisù was creamy and fresh. If we had a complaint, it’s that the digs are a tad stark. But that would never stop us from coming back to Sam Curreri’s second venture. Oh, and did we mention the flatbread pizza?
SAMMY'S ENOTECA 623 S. Broadway, 443-552-1002.
HOURS Sun.-Thu. 4:30-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4:30-11 p.m.
CUISINE Italian. PRICES Appetizers: $6-12; entrees: $14-22; desserts: $6.