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Eat Feature

The Bernie Carbo Diet

Michael Northrup
Josephine's (And No, That's Not Bernie Carbo)

Eat Special Issue 2003

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Posted 2/26/2003

Remember 1994? That was when we were told it is OK to eat carbohydrates, any kind of carbs, in whatever quantities we liked, even if it was a pound of pasta, as long as we didn't so much as whisper the word "fat." Now, in some circles, people will cross the room to avoid looking at a strand of angel hair.

Why do people crave carbohydrates so much? And we're not talking about bananas and zucchini; we're talking pasta and bread, and pasta. Maybe because they make us feel so good, at least for a little while. What else are you supposed to put butter, fresh clams, or carbonara sauce on--a piece of ham? Our recommendation is to enjoy life, eat pasta whenever you like, and just plan on spending a lot more time on the elliptical trainer.

We've named this diet for Bernie Carbo. Few remember that it was the then-Boston Red Sox outfielder Bernie Carbo's pinch-hit three-run homer that set the stage for Carlton Fisk's immortal go-ahead shot in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The man Bill "Spaceman" Lee dubbed the "best 10th man in baseball" was a lean 175-pound 6-footer during his active years, and that must mean something. This diet's mantra is "carbo, carbo, carbo," and for some, it's the anti-Atkins diet.

A pasta lovers' tour of Baltimore would sensibly begin in Little Italy, the city's comfort-food headquarters. There's a noticeable range of restaurants here, from the family to the fancy, and it's arguable that the restaurants occupying the tonier end of the spectrum would just as soon not be known as pasta houses. Fish, veal, chicken, and lamb (in the form of osso buco) are proudly served at all of these restaurants, so those gradually increasing their carb intake needn't worry about leaving unsatisfied.

The laid-back Amicci's (231 S. High St., [410] 528-1096) has successfully distinguished itself as a casual and affordable alternative in Little Italy, and it does attract a younger, less family-oriented clientele. Traditional pasta preparations include baked penne, lasagna, and tortellini stuffed with prosciutto and peas and served with Alfredo sauce, but the pane rotundo is the favorite dish here.

There's a world of difference in both atmosphere and mission at Aldo's (306 S. High St., [410] 727-0700), where chef/owner Aldo Vitale has made a commitment to acquiring his produce from organic farmers and his beef from raisers of free-range cattle, all of which is reflected in the seasonally changing menu. The fresh pasta dishes here employ such flavorful additions as broccoli rabe mixed with Italian sausage, creamy lobster, and black truffle butter. The setting is formal but spare, for attention must be paid to the osso buco (served with porcini and wild mushroom risotto) and the Calabresan fish soup. Coming soon is Vitale's more casual effort, the eagerly awaited Cibo, scheduled to open soon in Owings Mills.

Competing for the high-end culinary honors in Little Italy are the openly romantic Boccacio (925 Eastern Ave., [410] 234-1322), which specializes in the cuisine of Northern Italy and where the waiters dress in black tie, and Da Mimmo (217 S. High St., [410] 727-6876 ), which offers homemade pastas and favorites like fettuccine Alfredo and tortellini Pavarotti along with such specialties as veal chops and carpaccio in a formal setting.

Pasta specials at Dalesio's (829 Eastern Ave., [410] 539-1965) include several lower-calorie spa selections, including penne mixed with sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, and marinated shrimp served over couscous. The spa treatment extends to the rest of the menu, but there's ample evidence of cream as well, including fettuccine with crabmeat in an Alfredo sauce and chicken breasts with artichokes and fontinella cheese in a Marsala cream sauce.

Della Notte (801 Eastern Ave., [410] 837-5500) may always be best known for its exuberant design, both its sprawling exterior and festive interior (with the tree in the center of the dining room), all of which belies the fact that truly fine food is served there, from hearty pastas like bow-tie pasta with sausage, spinach, and cremini mushrooms to a cioppino served over saffron rice. Also notable here are the homemade breads, the extensive list of wines by the glass, and the cool inner lounge.

Moving out of Little Italy, but still searching for carbo-based life forms, Baltimore has plenty of other Italian restaurants vying for pasta-loving diners. Nearby, Mondo Bondo (Power Plant Live!, 30 Market Place, [410] 244-8080) serves up pasta--like a suitably fiery chicken fra diavlo served over linguine--and more in a casual environment. Salads and sandwiches, along with a selection of pizza, make this an affordable alternative to some of its glitzier neighbors.

The dream situation, of course, is the neighborhood Italian restaurant, the one you can walk to and sit at "your" table. The sweet-faced Josephine's (2112 Fleet St., [410] 327-6261) means to be that restaurant for people who live where Fells Point meets Canton. Mount Vernonites and pre-concert diners have come to rely on Viccino's Bistro (1315 N. Charles St., [410] 576-0266), while up in northern Baltimore County Fazzini's Italian Kitchen (578 Cranbrook Road, Cockeysville, [410] 667-6104) continues to draw large crowds to this casual, boisterous family-friendly eatery with its homemade pastas and pizzas.

Still not satisfied? Or perhaps, you simply don't like Italian food. There are other ways to get some soul-satisfying carbohydrates into your system. A few other restaurants have made noodles their business. Located on the Avenue in Hampden, the funky little Suzie's Soba (1009 W. 36th St., [410] 243-0051) has assembled a menu of representative noodle dishes from all over--along with some more ambitious (and expensive) pan-Asian dishes to choose from. And in Federal Hill, Ten-o-Six (1006 Light St., [410] 528-2146 divides its menu between Thai specialties, including a killer pad Thai, and Continental fare.

Sometimes the best starch comes in the most basic form--a great piece of bread. Find some at Bonaparte Bakery (903 S. Ann St. [410] 342-4000), along with some of the city's best-loved pastries.

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