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Carmine's Italian Restaurant

March 14, 2010

Carmine's Italian Restaurant offers the taste, smell and feel of Italy --all at its location at Village Place Shopping Center on Jefferson Boulevard in Smithsburg.

Our friend, Lora, who had lived abroad, joined us for an evening of good Italian food. She met us under the big sign that read "Carmine's" at 4:30 exactly --we were there for the early bird special on Friday night.

The entrance of the restaurant was a large space designed for take-out orders. The wall was decorated with children's colorings of a cartoon version of owner Carmine Shiano Moriello, with his handlebar mustache, long face and big round eyes.

Cordially greeted, we were led to the inner room where dinner was served. We could have been transported to a trattoria or pizzeria in Italy, engulfed in rich aroma of red sauce, pasta and garlic.

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There, to our right, on the wall was a large photo of a young boy on a tricycle. He looked so handsome, so confident, so joyous.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"That's Carmine," our waiter said proudly. "Only now he is grown and in the kitchen cooking."

The early bird specials were offered 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and all specials included a side salad and a small cannoli. There was a choice of lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs or chicken marsala for $8.95.

Lora chose the chicken marsala. The Professor looked at the weekend specials and he chose the eggplant roulittini for $13.95. I looked at the regular menu with dinner choices of seafood, pasta, chicken and veal entrees. I chose the pasta dish of cheese tortellini Alfredo ($10.95.) Dinners were served with bread and a side salad.

When the bread came, we sniffed the divine aroma of fresh-baked bread. Meals in Italy began with bread, wine and water. Thus the family and guests are welcomed and their hunger and thirst slaked. We each took a bread stick, slathered it with real butter and took a big bite. Aah, what lovely chewy bread.

Although not authentic Italian wines, offered are Yellow Tail, Bella Sera and Beringer wines. For other palates, Coors, Yuengling, Samuel Adams Winter and Blue Moon Beers are available. Lora had hot tea and we had water with lemon.

The server presented our salads next. We had each chosen the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressing and it proved to be tangy and good. The salad was very pretty on this winter's day, a confetti of carrots and red cabbage atop green lettuce with fresh tomato and croutons. The waiter ground black pepper over all.

"This is a wonderful salad," Lora said. "It is a contrast with the rest of the meal -- so crispy. And when a salad is served, I eat less."

Lora liked the Neapolitan dish of chicken marsala. The chicken pieces were covered with a sweet wine glaze, which she said was excellent. The mushrooms were just right. And the pasta? After some discussion about different pastas, we decided it was rigatoni.

The Professor's eggplant dish made him a happy man. The serving was generous: four big rolls of deep-fried eggplant. These thin slices of crisply fried eggplant were rolled up with ricotta cheese, ham and fresh spinach filling. The whole was covered with mozzarella cheese and a light tomato sauce. The textures were all different, ranging from creamy ricotta cheese, firm fried eggplant, and melted cheese, to a light tomato sauce.

My tortellini Alfredo with peas and prosciutto was delicious. The cheese-filled tortellini were generously covered with a seriously rich cream sauce, and marked by a dotting of green peas and red prosciutto: The colors of the Italian flag. The prosciutto itself was real, full of flavor, cut thinly, streaky -- the essence of ham.

We watched as a family in the corner booth was served a pizza. The pizza sat high on its own pedestal. We promised each other that the next time we come, we will have pizza like that.

At Carmine's there was seating for about 75 in booths and at tables. The servers wore red shirts and black pants. The plates were white, the napkins were bright red. Oh, of course. The word carmine means red, bright red. The music was up high, not intrusive, but pleasant, jaunty and happy.

Lora's meal came with one cannoli. The waiter told us the only dessert made in-house was the filling for the cannoli, so the Professor and I shared an order of cannoli. There were three cannoli on the plate, set in a fan pattern. The cannoli mirrored the design of the high-tech, modern fans above our heads.

We each tasted the cannoli, like connoisseurs of sweets, taking a little of the cream mixture on the fork, licking the fork and tasting the dessert. The filling was creamy, sweet, delicious and accented with a few chocolate pieces. The confection was dusted all over with powdered sugar. It seemed enough to eat the delicious interior as the pastry itself was hard and difficult to eat. But its ends were dipped in chocolate and chocolate is always worth the effort. It is a momentous dessert, creating moments by its very presence.

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