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Calabruzzi’s Cafe better at combining the names than the flavors of Italy

Pescarsalad Calabruzzi's Cafe 3304 S. Halsted Wednesday May 18 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Pescara salad at Calabruzzi's Cafe, 3304 S. Halsted, Wednesday, May 18, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Calabruzzi’s Cafe 1/2★

3304 S. Halsted; (773) 247-9999; calabruzziscafe.com

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Prices: Appetizers, $4-$10; sandwiches, $7-$10; house specialties, $10-$14; desserts, $3-$5.

Try: Pescara salad, eggplant Parmesan, potato pizza.

In a bite: Italian food in Bridgeport that aims to be a “tasteful combination of southern and central Italian cuisine,” but the only aspect that even suggests Italian is the map of Italy on the menu cover. The atmosphere, what there is of it, is laid-back, casual and as basic as it gets (a decor-on-a-dime arrangement). Booths along two walls, tables in the center, bar on one side. Good for children. This might not be a bad place to grab a quick lunch or dinner before a White Sox game, but don’t expect any home runs (with the food, that is).

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;

★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;

★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: May 26, 2011 7:11PM



Need I explain that Calabruzzi’s Cafe in Bridgeport is an Italian restaurant? You may have figured out the name is a conflation of two regions — Calabria and Abruzzo — in Italy. “A tasteful combination of southern and central Italian cuisine,” is how the menu explains it.

In a broader sense, this is not such a bad idea; southern Italian cooking is a hot trend right now. But I am not convinced that Calabruzzi’s got it right. More work needs to be done, and paring down the menu would be a good start. Just about every dish you may have come across in every Italian restaurant — chain or otherwise — is on the menu. Maybe by offering less (as in dishes), you offer more (as in better execution).

To explain. The pescara salad (aka fish salad) was a good try, but it missed the mark on a couple of things: the mess of no-flavor baby shrimp doesn’t cut it. (Use a couple of large shrimp instead.) The sliced canned olives? You’re kidding. The clippings of squid, the carrots and the celery? Fine. The dressing? Way off taste. (Lose the vinegar because it overpowers the olive oil.) And a touch of garlic would help, too. Sorry, but this fish salad didn’t even come close to those served at other Italian restaurants around town.

I liked the red sauce (subtly sweet, low acidity) on the eggplant Parmesan and the lasagna, but both dishes were swamped with it. When both of those dishes hit the table, they were swaddled with so much cheese and sauce I couldn’t tell which was which until I started some fork play. But it was at that point that I started to appreciate (somewhat) each of those well-worn southern Italian dishes a bit more. The eggplant was lightly breaded, and there was layer upon layer. So that was a good thing. But the “mostaccioli” with the eggplant was overcooked and appeared to have been rinsed before being sauced, which is a no-no of the first order. The lasagna? Eh! Excessive water running out of the ricotta mixed with the sauce, and that left a pool of tomato water in the bottom of the bowl. The hard-boiled eggs in the lasagna structure were definitely a southern Italian addition, but this lasagna needs a lot of work to make the grade.

One of the better dishes sampled was the chicken breast limone. The breast was moist and plump, and the lemon sauce was right on the money. The side of mostaccioli was, once again, far from al dente and pasty.

I was very surprised at how good (though not great) the pizza turned out. The thin crust (double crust also available) had a nice crisp and a pleasant chew. Only one version was tried — the potato pizza (with rosemary, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese); I would order it again.

Dessert choices included pizzelle, tiramisu and gelato. No comment.

E-mail brunoeats@aol.com



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