With no small fanfare, a new Italian-style restaurant has very recently descended upon Maumee: Carrabba's Italian Grill. It's at 3405 Briarfield Blvd., west of U.S. 23, south of Dussel Drive.
It's big, it's flashy, it would be hard to miss, even if you weren't looking for it. A pleasant surprise, though: I couldn't hear any music, and the conversation was not drowned out.
How Italian is it? Well, with few exceptions (“Soup of the Day,” “Italian chicken,”) all the menu items are Italian. But not to fear; there are generally satisfactory translations. “Classic favorites” is brief, but every pizza-eater knows what pepperoni is. “Thin sheets of pasta rolled and stuffed with four cheeses, baked with pomodoro sauce and mozzarella” is a fair description of manicotti.
All the same, I scan the menu in vain for a dish of risotto, which appears on the menu in almost every comparably priced restaurant in Italy. And where are the fish, other than the calamari, shrimp, scallops, and mussels, which the Italians catch and cook up and down both sides of the peninsula?
To the Carrabba, a mezzaluna (half-moon) is a delicate half-moon raviolo, but in northern Italian kitchens, a mezzaluna is a distinctively-shaped chopping knife. Whichever is correct, it sure sound Italian.
Settle for Italian allusions, however, and you'll find generous portions of good, solid eating, generous plates of pasta, pizza, and grilled specialties, maybe a bit high-priced (especially if you're treating the family to a restaurant dinner).
A plate of sausage and sauteed peppers and onions could be called an antipasto (there's another appetizer by that name), and it really whetted my appetite one evening; I was ready for more.
More was manicotti that evening, two fat pastry rolls stuffed with soft cheese, baked under a spread of mozzarella and served with a dollop of marinara. It was a mistake - plainly mine, not the kitchen's - because it was far more filling than I'm really up to.
Lasagne, another evening's entree, could have been too much, too, but it was somehow not so difficult to leave a few terminal bites. Lasagne is not far behind pizza and many pastas as a popular American dish, and the Carrabba's kitchen does make a very attractive dinner of it.
With entrees comes a salad or a soup, and the minestrone, chock-full of vegetables, is worth an exploratory spoonful.
It was a reflection on the franchiser's formula, incidentally, when the server asked. “How can I put your entree order in without first ordering salad or soup?” The computer is ill-prepared for variants.
Well and thoroughly trained servers bear witness to the franchising skill that makes Carrabba's a crowded success; the servers know what each menu item is about, they've been introduced in detail to the wine list, and they contribute to an agreeable dining out.
There's one, well, almost secret about Carrabba's: It belongs, all or most of it, to the Outback chain; it's faux-Austra- lian, not faux-Italian. While this fact was plain in a close reading of the press kit that preceded the Toledo opening, it's not conspicuously disclosed to the casual customer.
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