From Limoni, Limoncello!

Mamma mia! The hottest new restaurant in St. Michaels right now is an Italian trattoria on Talbot Street. Limoncello St. Michaels takes its name from an often-homemade Italian liqueur made of lemon juice, rind, alcohol and sugar water. The spelling of the word limoncello itself hints that the dishes reflect the flavors of Southern Italy, where lemons are a staple and the beverage originates.

Tucked into a bank of shops near the center of town, the restaurant has white siding, yellow shutters and a blue awning. Picture windows flank the bright yellow door and create the perfect alcove for tables, while three four-top tables on the sidewalk welcome outdoor diners.

Inside, the restaurant resembles a cozy Italian farmhouse. Low ceilings are covered with pressed tin while the trim is painted (you guessed it!) lemon yellow and ocean blue. A line of bright yellow-and-blue tiles rings the room.

The wall to the left is covered in stone, which yields to a friendly neighborhood bar. The right wall is entirely dedicated to photographs of Sorrento and the Amafli Coast.

There’s certainly no shortage of good Italian food on the Eastern Shore. But in a town known for both seafood and fine dining, Limoncello’s Italian-American cuisine has been a welcome change of pace for both locals and visitors.

A meal here could start with a traditional flute of sparkling prosecco, but a limoncello martini is the house signature drink. At first glance, the extensive menu can be a bit overwhelming as the dishes are listed in Italian. But thorough English-language descriptions help diners make their final choices. In fact, the menu is so tempting we could have invited a dozen Picky Eaters and still not sampled everything we wanted.

For starters, the bruschetta is a must. Grilled Italian bread topped with marinated cherry tomatoes and a thick thatch of fresh arugula is accented with a rich balsamic glaze. There’s also crispy calamari, a cheese plate and a selection of affettati, or Italian cold cuts.

Even more interesting is the gamberi con pane all’aglio, which consists of grilled Italian bread with a rich topping of large head-on shrimp, tomatoes, capers, olives and red peppers. The crispy polenta with wild mushrooms in a gorgonzola cream sauce, or polenta con funghi misti, is also a highlight.

For a main course, a pasta selection is a must. After much deliberation – and a little direction from the server – we ordered the papparadelle con ragu di cinghaile. This hearty dish features wide ribbons of pasta paired with a rich, meaty red sauce featuring wild boar.

We would return for this dish alone, but there were half a dozen more entrees we would have loved to try, including lobster ravioli, fettucine with Bolognese sauce, risotto with shrimp and asparagus and the house-made gnocchi. The chargrilled, flat-bread pizzette gives us yet another reason to return.

There was no steak on the menu so we settled for veal. For the vittello saltimbocca, the veal was pounded remarkably thin and flavored with fresh sage, prosciutto and mozzarella. A mound of mashed potatoes and spears of grilled asparagus, along with savory gravy, completed this tasty dish.

Though fish was not high on our list when we arrived, the branzino can escarole was irresistible. The dish features filets of pan-seared, skin-on European sea bass atop sautéed escarole and cannellini beans. As it turns out, “greens and beans” is comfort food all over the world. The savory escarole and cannellini is essentially the Italian version of black-eyed peas and turnip greens and is also available as a side dish.

The dessert menu features a terrific traditional tiramisu, as one would expect. There’s also chocolate mousse and a chocolate soufflé that is really more of a delicate, soft-centered cake than a real soufflé. No matter what it’s called, the gooey chocolate dessert is topped with homemade vanilla ice cream and is an indulgence worth the calories.

Still, it’s the limoncello tiramasu that rises to the top of our list. This signature dessert features sponge cake soaked in limoncello liqueur and layered with mascarpone cheese. The sweet, lemony goodness ended the meal on a high note.

Our final report on this restaurant? The portions are generous, the flavors well executed and the atmosphere congenial. For all of this, we Picky Eaters have only one word. Bravissimo!

Limoncello Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar: 200 South Talbot Street, St. Michaels, MD; 410-745-3111 or limoncellostmichaels.com. Open for lunch and dinner daily.

 

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