Cafe Gia strives to provide the feel of bistros that the owner’s family left behind in Sicily when they moved to Baltimore’s Little Italy in 1953 (“Gia” is the owner’s nickname).
The cafe has two dining rooms, one on the ground floor and another up a steep flight of stairs, each with a dozen tables. There’s also an open-air balcony for dining on warm evenings with a view of the Harbor East skyline. Gia and her family are actively involved in running the cafe (we chatted with a friendly waitress who turned out to be Gia’s mom!). The feel of Cafe Gia differentiates it from other places in Little Italy; it literally glows with the warm colors of art work that totally surrounds you on the walls and from even the table tops!
Cafe Gia’s menu is limited. It includes six appetizers ($5-$15), three salads ($6-$10), and two dozen pasta dishes ($16 – $22). The cafe secured a liquor license earlier in 2010 and now offers a full bar. Along with our guest, JT, we decided to share a couple of appetizers: Calamari Fritti ($11) and Grilled Caesar Salad ($8). For our main course, Marty ordered Shrimp Fra Diavolo ($19), John decided on Eggplant Parmigiana ($16) and our buddy JT opted for Ravioli Positano ($17 – cheese stuffed ravioli with sausage, mushrooms and peas in a marinara sauce).
Our plate of fried Calamari was good and big enough for all of us to share. The Grilled Caesar Salad was o.k. (though not memorable and John wondered if putting romaine under a broiler is all that great an idea). When the entrees arrived, the two 8” soup dishes of pasta raised some eyebrows. Marty concluded that the portion size of his Fra Diavolo was just right (larger portions at other Italian restaurants run $6-8 higher) and the six large shrimp and hot, spicy sauce left him quite happy.
JT was less satisfied. He judged that his ravioli were good but hardly memorable and the small portion left him hungry. John’s eggplant had very thin slices served on top of a bed of pasta; it was good and the portion was adequate but it’s not the best eggplant parmigiana that he’s had.
Fortunately, the smaller portions at Cafe Gia left room for dessert – we shared a piece of lemon cake ($6) which we found rich and moist. JT even splurged on an after-dinner limoncello liquor ($8 and homemade by the chef) which proved to be really “high test”!
We really enjoyed Cafe Gia’s charming colorful decor. The staff, while friendly, weren’t as attentive as we would have liked (but that could have stemmed from an unexpectedly busy night). We enjoyed the food (though nothing we tried really stood out) and thought that the prices were in line with the portion sizes and offered a good value for a Little Italy restaurant.
BASICS: Cafe Gia (Little Italy); 410 S. High St.; 410-685-6727; www.cafegias.com; Open 7 days/week Mon- Fri dinner only from 4 pm to 11 pm; on Sat/Sun from 12 on – 10 pm; full bar; vegetarian options
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