Following our interview with actor Chazz Palminteri, of “A Bronx Tale,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Bullets Over Broadway, “ and an episode of “Modern Family,” we were invited to return as his guests to sample the food at Chazz – A Bronx Original (which opened June 2011, and is co-owned/managed by the owners of nearby Aldo’s). The restaurant is large and open with four separate dining areas plus seating in front of a coal-fired pizza oven. Huge floor-to-ceiling murals of the Bronx dominate the rear of the space while a wall of windows faces warehouses across Aliceanna Street. Stainless steel top tables add a contemporary look (but table spacing can be tight).

The Italian themed menu features six “Bronx-style” appetizers ($8-15), eight intriguing veggie small dishes ($5-6), three side salads ($7-12), bruschette ($9), pizza ($10-17 for a generous 13-inch pie), four pastas ($17-22), six entrees ($20-25), and six desserts ($6-9). Wines by the glass start at $9 (with “half” glasses available for tasting) while beers start at $5.

Photos courtesy Chazz–A Bronx OriginalOur waitress was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. We decided to try the featured caprese salad ($14) and eggplant parmigiana tower ($9). From a selection of some standard and quite unusual pizzas, we decided to sample “potato” pizza ($11) and then opted for shrimp fra diavolo ($22) and veal spezzantino (Italian for stew, $25) for entrees. The caprese salad presented a three-inch circle of soft Italian burrata cheese (imported by Chazz’s) next to a mound of roasted red, yellow, and orange grape tomatoes laying in olive oil with a thin drizzle of balsamic; while visually attractive, the flavors were so subtle that we felt something was lacking. By contrast, the eggplant with slices of fried eggplant stacked vertically with a light filling of marinara and cheese made for a winning combination of taste and texture that earned a thumbs-up from both of us. The potato pizza had a layer of very thin Yukon Gold potato slices misted with olive oil and salt on top of a thin crust with large chewy rim with a very light layer of cheese. Though simply constructed, we found that it was a very unusual yet interesting pizza that we liked a lot. Marty is a big “diavolo” fan; although he was quite pleased with the pasta with a light blend of sauce, he was pretty disappointed in the six shrimp, which looked medium sized and lost on the mound of pasta; John would have preferred more sauce on the pasta and wished it was more “devilish.” The veal spezzatino was a simple presentation with small pieces of veal with mushrooms, peppers, and potatoes topped by a small slice of grilled polenta. While the veal was tender, John felt that the preparation was just too plain (some onion, garlic, or spices could make a huge improvement!) while the portion seemed small for the price.

For dessert, we sampled chocolate espresso torte ($8 and a Chazz favorite!) and affogato (Italian for “drowned,” $7). The small torte was incredibly rich, smooth and chocolaty and came with a scoop of raspberry/lime granita, an unsweetened blend of fresh raspberry and ice that was incredibly good. The affogato arrived looking suspiciously uninteresting with a single scoop of vanilla gelato and a pale cookie; then the server poured a demitasse of espresso with a touch of sambuca over it and the taste of the resulting combination proved way more interesting than we ever would have guessed at first. Both desserts get a thumbs-up from us.

Chazz’s kitchen produces simple combinations of quality ingredients without noticeable spices or enhancement (the down side of this is, at least for us, the results can sometimes prove disappointingly blah). While some menu choices are comparative bargains (e.g., delicious 13-inch pizzas at $10-11), other items raised our eyebrows in disbelief (e.g., chicken parmigiana with an optional half order of pasta runs more than $30!) Service was uneven at times (but this should improve with time). Chazz offers some really good, “original” dishes which we haven’t found at other Baltimore Italian restaurants and our enjoyment of these will have us coming back to try more.

DETAILS: Chazz–A Bronx Original, 1415 Aliceanna St. 410.522.5511. Open for lunch and dinner 7 days, 11am-11pm. Full bar, vegetarian options, $9 valet. ChazzBronxOriginal.com.

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