Open now nearly a year, this little urban gem is a perfect neighborhood spot whether you live in the neighborhood or not.
It specializes in daily homemade pasta, homemade sauces and homemade meatballs. The bread is homemade, too, but made elsewhere — which is too bad because it’s not as good as the other food that’s made at Pastorante.
The place is small, as in four high-top tables against one wall with four seats each, a few other tables in the center of the room and a cute little two-top wrought-iron table by the big glass window overlooking Third Street. But blonde polished hardwood flooring and bright yellow walls over wainscoting give the small room a larger, vibrant glowing feel.
There’s fun Italian poster art on the walls, ceiling fan lamps, a chalkboard menu, real fresh flowers on each table and an open kitchen exuding warmth.
Acoustics aren't great and the piped-in music seemed randomly selected. But service is homey, friendly and informed. Prices are low, portions are large and the food quality is high.
Two things struck me during a weeknight visit. One, it was crowded. And two, although the menu is small, they were out of a cannelloni entrée I wanted to try. This tells me stuff is freshly made and not laying around in the hope that it gets ordered.
I love a small menu and there was way too much on this small menu that called to me. So I’ll be back.
But let’s talk about Pastorante’s nicely-varied options. Appetizers range in price from $2.50 to $6. There’s garlic bread, bruschetta, meatballs with garlic bread and mushrooms stuffed with pancetta.
Get the mushrooms. Three large, filled mushroom caps are served piping hot in a lowsided crock with béchamel sauce and topped with mozzarella. The portion is easily enough for two to share and tasty enough to tempt an order of another round. At just $5 per order,the mushrooms are the deal of the day.
Salads run from $2.75 to $8 and include side house salads, large house salads, Caesar side salads and house Caesars with chicken or shrimp served with shaved Italian cheese and garlic croutons. The house side salad at just $2.75 was fresh, crisp (with delicious cheese) and large enough for two to share. There’s also minestrone soup for $3.75 a cup or $5 a bowl.
Entrees are priced from just $8 for spaghetti with slow-cooked beef and pork Bolognesestyle sauce to $16.50 for (a Phantom favorite) squid ink pasta (black linguini) with shrimp in a vodka sauce.
I, however, ordered the $15 pappardelle with oxtail ragu in tomato sauce (on our server’s recommendation) and was thereafter very grateful. The flat ribbon pasta was silky smooth and light. The oxtail ragu was full of flavor. The dish was returned to the kitchen empty and clean, sauce mopped up with the (not great) bread.
My dining partner had fettuccini with eggplant served with roasted red peppers in a light marinara sauce. The dish drew high praise for the freshness of the eggplant, the lightness of the pasta and the very good taste of the sauce. Other pasta offerings include pesto fusilli, fettuccini Alfredo with chicken or shrimp, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna with sweet Italian sausage and meat sauce and four-cheese macaroni.
Desserts include tiramisu, bomba (an ice cream bomb variously involving different gelato and cookies or cake) and frozen limoncello, all around $5.
The place is BYOB, though no ice bucket was offered for the white wine I brought. Other beverages sold there include San Pellegrino, soft drinks, ice teas and bottled water. Of course there’s espresso. There’s also caffe Americano and caffe latte as well.
Pastorante serves lunch, too. There are salads and meatball subs. And most of the dinner- time pastas are offered with a side salad and bread at slightly lower prices.
I really like this small addition to city dining. I also like the fact it offers takeout. And while its midtown location might still be considered pioneering by many folks, it proves a simple rule of the restaurant business: If you make good food, people will come — no matter where you are.
1012 N. Third St, Harrisburg; 717-232-7050; www.pastorantepa.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday
BYOB; takeout available; street parking; reservations accepted.
The Phantom Diner has been a longtime restaurant reviewer for Central PA Magazine.
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