Blast From the Pasta
Newish Canton Italian Kitchen Keeps It Simple
This location is closed
Gino Troia Ristorante is the third attempt--following Pascale's Italian Deli and Pork Store and Bruschetta Deli and Wine--to make a midblock Canton storefront into something to which the villagers would respond. If the previous two attempts nonplussed the neighborhood with their uneasy hybridizing of delicatessen, gourmet counter, and wine bar, Gino Troia feels more like a straightforward restaurant, but a much more informal version of the popular Towson dining room that bears the chef/owner's name.
That informality may strike some diners as haphazard, but it's mostly charming, the kind of place about which lucky travelers would boast. The fresh-aired first floor, which was formerly cramped with refrigerator cases and the deli counter, is now a compact granite-topped wine bar and a scattering of wooden tables. Those tables stretch back along a narrow path to a tied-back, floor-length curtain, behind which sits a photo-shoot-ready farmer's table that comfortably accommodates six diners and easily holds the cobalt-colored mineral water bottles, ceramic olive oil decanters, dipping plates, and wine bottles that accumulate on its top.
Contributing greatly to Gino Troia's old-world mystique is the silver-haired, straight-backed waiter who pours patrons complimentary glasses of mineral water and effuses sincerely about the menu's offerings--which, on weeknights, consist mainly of cold and warm appetizers and a selection of pasta dishes. A sheet of additional items, more elaborate preparations such as osso buco, is inserted into the menus on Friday and Saturday nights. Instead of feeling constricted, the pasta menu comes across as a chef's lifestyle prescription: This is the way to eat on a Tuesday night--a bottle of wine, a plate of cold meats and cheeses, and a freshly made pasta dish.
It's a good life. Right away, order up a plate of assorted marinated olives ($5), wrinkled little black ones and green ones stuffed with garlic cloves; the piatto misto ($11.50), a handsome presentation of paper-thin soprasetta and prosciutto with hunks of smoked mozzarella and Argentine regiannito cheeses; and, especially, the bruschetta burro e acciughe ($7), slices of good bread slathered with the fatty, stinky ambrosia of sweet butter and anchovies.
Switch up wines, and proceed to hot appetizers, definitely a generous pile of olive oil-fried calamari ($12). The squid are coated very simply, their freshness manifest, and served with a fine marinara sauce on the side but needing only a squeeze of fresh lemon. And probably throw in Chef Troia's Neapolitan sauce-simmered meat balls ($6), more simple-kitchen pleasure, crafted out of basic ingredients.
The unexpected weeknight availability of osso buco ($24), a weekend-only item and a Troia specialty, is too tempting to pass up. While the veal shanks--two of them!--are seasoned well and the marrow is expertly stuffed with gremolata, the meat itself is a tad tired, as though they really had been intended for the weekend. And the regular menu item, bracioline di manzo al ragu ($16), sautéed scallops of beef wrapped around spinach, has a toughness that detracts from the good flavor.
So, really, it's about the pasta, a dozen to choose from and few ways to go wrong, judging from the evidence of a summery pomodoro e mozzarella ($8), with bursting cherry tomatoes, pillowy mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves; the pappardelle Colleen ($20), hearty with a boar ragout and woody porcini mushrooms clinging to the long, broad noodles; and the alla puttanesca ($12), brimming with capers and black olives, though not enough anchovy flavor. Other preparations available included dishes with mussels, clams, shrimp, sausages, and meat balls.
We've seen crowds gathered at the front bar, but we've seen Gino Troia's abandoned, too. It deserves steadier attention. The chef is there, waiting for good diners.