Visit this pasticceria for two reasons, the tiramisu and the food. First, the food:
Mrs. Ianniccone is a solid, capable Italian cook and her dishes taste as if they come right from her kitchen, which they do. This is all her accomplished home cooking here; there is no food service industry taste or sameness to these meals. I come here for lunch and my favorite is her eggplant parmesian. The eggplant is perfectly cooked; it is not soggy or mushy, it is slightly al dente but not tough, raw or chewy. It is perfectly seasoned with her tomato sauce and just the right amount of luscious baked cheese, good quality mozzarella. The tomato sauce always has that balance between natural tomato sweetness and just a hint of tomato sharpness without erring into either extreme.
Words cannot describe how light and fluffy are Mrs. Iannaccone’s gnocchi. If you have never eaten gnocchi, these are the ones to try, but they will spoil you for any other gnocchi, from that point on. The sauce is the same, simple but well done tomato sauce. It may not have the zing! of restaurant tomato sauces or be ‘gussied up’ with bits of onions, pepper, or meat. In fact, I cannot tell if it is a meat-based sauce or not. It is obviously Mrs. Ianniconne’s standby, and for good reason: it is dependable, subtle and delicious without being overpowering. I have also had her cheese tortellini; it is mixed with peas and artichoke and it is also enjoyable. Her vegetable lasagna is a bit more like her frittata, only it has lasagna noodles in it. It holds together wonderfully and has great texture; one can see in the serving area that it is not a ‘falling apart’ vegetable lasagna that suffers from hunks of vegetable and runny sauce. She obviously has worked out a successful formula to hold her vegetable lasagna together with a cheese/egg matrix; it is not too cheesy and maybe a little eggy. It is slightly bland for my taste, but I enjoy it with a little salt and pepper on top. Another simple understated dish that shows Mrs. Ianniccone’s mastery as a cook is her rapini. This vegetable always has perfect doneness; avoiding the twin faults of raw or mushy is difficult to do time after time, but you can depend upon her. It is also seasoned perfectly. The caponata is nicely flavorful. It is a little oily but most caponata are. It would be nice to have a small roll to sop up a bit of the oil afterwards as sort of a guilty pleasure. In fact, this is the only fault that I can find in this delicious establishment: as a bakery, they do not have small dinner rolls available to eat along with lunch or dinner. After enjoying so many lunches, I brought my wife here for dinner. They offer a five-entrée plate for two. We had the gnocchi, rapini, veggie lasagna and we also enjoyed the mussels risotto and the meat lasagna (picture above). The risotto was masterfully done; it was just the right balance between creaminess and the very slight chewiness that marks a perfectly cooked risotto. Another nice thing is that all of the entrees are visible in their serving dishes, very much like a family-style buffet. You can look over the entire selection of what is available for your dining, give in to intrigue and temptation, and they will portion it out for you, heat it up and serve it in a very few minutes. Piedigrotta does not serve wine or beer, but you are welcome to bring your own.
The owner, Carminantonio Ianniccone, already had made his mark as a chef and restaurateur in Treviso, Italy at the time the restaurant, ‘Le Beccherie’ began offering tiramisu in 1970 . Mr. Ianniconne will tell you that it was he and his brother who invented and supplied the restaurant with tiramisu. This story does stand up to moderate investigation, although no records exist to prove it. This account has been written up in the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and, most importantly, in The Rosengarten Report (Issue 49, September 2006), where Mr. Iannicoone gives David Rosengarten his recipe for tiramisu. I have made this recipe, and it comes out just like Mr. Ianniconne’s pasticceria tiramisu: pure, fresh, sincere, delicious. Having made it, I know exactly what is in it. Iit tastes of the fresh milk, fresh cream, lemon, fresh eggs, good quality mascarpone and good quality sweet Marsala wine from which it is made, and, of course, from espresso, sugar and ladyfingers. You will not taste food-service creams or thickeners here. These are the simple, honest layers of sweet espresso-moistened ladyfingers, zabaglione, crema pasticcera and whipped cream that speak for themselves; no chocolate-coated coffee beans need apply. You can buy small, medium and large trays of tiramisu here. Sometimes the ladyfingers are a little too dry for my taste but I am aware of the dangers of having them fall apart if too soppy, which they never are.
I do not come here for the breads, but there are many types here, as well as other Italian pastries that I have enjoyed: pignoli cookies, ‘lobster tails’, sfogliatelle, sticky buns, biscotti, Neapolitan pastries, many cookies, cakes and cheesecake.
There are only one or two other diners present when I go for lunch and it is not because I am wrong about the food. This pasticceria suffers from being removed from Baltimore’s Little Italy and the tourist-packed area of the East Bay by four or five industrial blocks, which are an effective barrier against being discovered by strolling tourists and locals. It is a short, reasonable walk from the northwest border of the packed cheek-by-jowl inferior eating establishments of the Little Italy neighborhood and only one block away (west) from the free bus Orange Line stop. To hear Mr. Ianniccone tell it, his pasticceria has been a labor of love, not for money or fame, for the past twelve years and it seems to be the sixth or seventh restaurant he has owned. He seems to be happy right where he is and I hope that this notice attracts only respectful, appreciative patrons to Piedigrotta Bakery.