The Phantom Diner Reviews Carley’s Ristorante & Piano Bar: Refreshed Italian Classic
By The Phantom Diner
Some 15 years ago, when Harrisburg’s downtown Second Street still was referred to as “Restaurant Row,” a little Italian place, Carley’s Ristorante & Piano Bar, opened just round the corner from Second Street on Locust Street.
It was venture number two for the owners of Stocks on Second, arguably the anchor or what was “Restaurant Row,” Stephen and K.J. Weinstock.
The new spot was named for their children, Carter and Ashley. It was hit for many years. Then it seemed to falter. Now it seems to be back on track.
Carley’s bar was always popular, because of its servers and, of course, the piano. But in recent years, the menu moved away from its Italian foundations and things just were not the same.
But more recently, the menu is where an Italian menu should be. The chef is new. The Weinstock’s seem recommitted. And the result is the original Carley’s feel has returned.
It’s not a big place, which I’ve always liked. And the tight, cozy, L-shaped bar just inside the main door, and behind glass doors that in fair weather open to a few sidewalk tables, is a favorite of locals.
Past the bar and the piano are a few steps up to a long, narrow dining room, wider in the back, with a cozy, dim-lite atmosphere common to smallish, big-city pasta joints.
Not to say this is a pasta joint. It isn’t. The newish menu is wonderful. It isn’t large, which is always a good sign. But there are half-a-dozen appetizers, a couple salads, a couple flatbreads, some dishes served over pasta, and a few main courses.
To the details. On my most recent visit, appetizers included eight house-made meatballs with fresh mozzarella, pesto and tomato sauce ($14), sauteed calamari with white wine and tomato sauce ($14), an antipasto platter with roasted garlic hummus, pesto, red peppers and artichoke hearts ($12), a charcuterie of soppressata, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni and crackers ($13), a soup of the day, and an excellent tuna crudo, thin squares of raw yellowfin tuna in a lemon vinaigrette with capers ($15).
Flatbreads were a simple caprese ($12) with tomato, pesto, mozzarella and basil, and an Italian sausage ($13) with olives, pesto and feta cheese.
It would be easy to make a meal out of an appetizer, or a flatbread and a house or chopped salad, ($10 and $11, respectively). But there are many other very tasty options.
If you like eggplant, there’s a grinder made with roasted eggplant, squash, zucchini, basil, with tomato sauce and mozzarella, served with a side salad, for just $11. And there’s a muffuletta (a sandwich made famous by Italian immigrants in New Orleans) of salami, prosciutto, soppressata, pepperoni, roast peppers, mozzarella, tapenade and drizzled olive oil on Italian bread, with a side salad ($13).
But the “over pasta” dishes shouldn’t be ignored. You can get them with penne, pappardelle or orzo, and they all come with long slices of garlic toast. They range in cost from $20 to $24, and include a vegetarian dish with kalamata olives, red onion, artichoke hearts and bell pepper. There is also grilled chicken Florentine with spinach, parmesan and a sweet cream sauce, or grilled Italian sweet sausage with roasted peppers and onions.
I opted for “Tuscan Crab & Shrimp.” And while it’s true Tuscany is better known for meat and produce than for seafood, the sauteed shrimp and crab here comes with smoked bacon and spinach, so I guess we’re good. And the dish, which I had served over orzo, was even better than good.
Main courses, priced $22 to $32, included: fried breaded eggplant Parmesan; roasted duck with asparagus; seared tuna steak with roasted potatoes; and Palermo-style steak, a Sicilian recipe of breaded, thinly sliced, in this case, flat iron steak with capers and garlic, served with roasted potatoes.
Desserts include panna cotta tart, lemon ricotta cake, tiramisu and affogato (vanilla ice cream, chocolate shavings with espresso).
The “new” Carley’s is promising, especially to those who fondly recall the “old” Carley, and to those who are partial to Italian dining at reasonable prices. If you haven’t been, give it a try. If you haven’t been in a while, go back.
204 Locust St., Harrisburg; open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday; live music; street parking or nearby garage parking; 717-909-9191; carleysristorante.com.