Liberatore's Ristorante is that classic Italian restaurant that checks all the boxes when you’re craving Italian food, not necessarily the kind they eat in Italy, the kind we’ve adopted in America as our own. There’s the epic menu with lavish cream sauces that make us pine for a past when “carb” wasn’t a four-letter word. An expansive wine list that showcases grapes from Piedmont to Tuscany. Polite old-world service that shoots straight from the heart. Timeless décor and nary a trendy Edison bulb or living plant wall, as well as plates that aren’t overly styled for Instagram—with little more than a swoosh design here or an edible flower garnish there.
This family-owned operation first opened in Eldersburg in 1988. In the ensuing decades, the brand has spun off several spots with only slight differences. Lib’s Grill in Perry Hall features steaks and seafood in a more laid-back setting; Liquid Lib’s, the wine bar that shares the same building with the Timonium location, serves tapas and pizzas. And the Timonium outpost, where we ate, is in the midst of remodeling. “The Liberatore’s locations don’t just serve food, they serve memories,” boasts the website. And herein lies the attraction. With its generous portions, fair pricing, honest food, and a dessert tray that allows you to make your selection based on eye appeal, a meal here gives me a case of dining déjà vu, reminding me so much of the suburban staples where I grew up eating on the outskirts of Philadelphia. As my fellow reviewer said, while we sat in the white tablecloth dining room with muzak playing in the background, the year could be 2019—or 1988, when they opened.
There’s comfort in the fact that there are few surprises here. An order of bruschetta was pleasantly garlicky. The Liberatore’s tossed salad was a tad too heavily dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, but nicely chilled with a variety of vegetables including sliced mushrooms and celery. On the entrée side of the menu, the star of the show was a brick-sized slab of eggplant Parmesan. The chunky house-made tomato sauce (or gravy, as Italian-Americans like to say) was well-balanced, and the eggplant was soft and sweet (clearly salted before it was fried to remove any trace of bitterness). We also enjoyed a spaghetti with clam sauce, though the advertised “fresh” clams were minced and not whole, a likely sign that they came from a can (or jar). A less successful entrée was the chicken pino, ironically a dish our server recommended. It was pan-fried with a piece of mozzarella melted over an out-of-season tomato. It also had an unfortunate sweetness to it.
As he cleared our mostly clean plates, our server commented, “I guess you’re too full for dessert.” We took that as a challenge and finished our meal with an exceptional, cloud-like piece of house-made coconut cake. Thank heaven for suburban Italian restaurants!
LIBERATORE’S RISTORANTE & CATERING 410-561-3300, 9515 Deerco Rd., Timonium. HOURS: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 3-9 p.m. PRICES: Starters: $6.95-14.95; entrees: $19.95-36.95; pastas: $15.95-21.95. AMBIANCE: Old-World Italian.