Newcomers to Alberto Contestabile’s strip-mall restaurant invariably arrive asking, “Are you sure this is the right place,” and leave saying, “Who knew?” Lots of people know now, and the pride of Glen Burnie is still dazzling everyone who discovers it again.
Baltimore SunRanked at #16 “50 Best Restaurants in Baltimore Counties,” April 2011
When a yen for pasta strikes, Glen Burnie is probably not on your short list of destinations. But you might want to reconsider your choices. Hidden in a nondescript strip mall, Trattoria Alberto has been serving astoundingly good homemade pasta and traditional Italian dishes for a quarter of a century. The grilled calamari is a paragon of simple preparation, quality ingredients, and expert execution – olive oil and lemon juice are precisely balanced and the squid grilled just enough to impart a kiss of smoke and crust and to render it perfectly tender. Entrees follow suit with favorites like osso buco and other well-prepared meats and seafood. Pappardelle Ammiraglia combines clams, shrimp, and house-made pasta into a resilient, smooth mix enveloped in a flavorful sauce redolent of shellfish and white wine. Service is prompt and congenial, and live music is featured on weekends. It’s more than worth the trek.
Baltimore MagazineRanked at #3 “67 Best Restaurants,” March 2011
Now this is dining.The polenta appetizer ($14.95) at Trattoria Alberto has a consistency and silkiness rarely associated with cornmeal. But then again, polenta is the pasta of Northern Italy, and this is a Northern Italian restaurant. The pleasure delivered by this dish is lifted even higher by the sauce that accompanies it, a rich, flavorful reduction of cream, sun-dried tomato and mushrooms.
Hard though it is to top the polenta, the vegetarian lasagna ($21.95) soars. This is a delicate house-made pasta aired with fresh vegetables that have been cooked just enough to release their flavor. Bits of carrot in the lasagna still have crunch. The sauce, made with basil, I was told, is unlikely béchamel I have made at home – lighter, yet more vibrant. Topped with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan, it’s a delight.
The good times do not stop there. the veal saltimbocca ($24.95) is almost fork-tender, the richness of the veal counter-pointed by the distinctive bite of the prosciutto and the fresh sage leaves that rest upon it. In so much saltimbocca, the sage gets lost. here it makes its presence known, and the results are pleasing.
The beef is exquisite. The kitchen’s adroit, inventive handling of aged Angus beef seems to be a pillar of this restaurant’s menu. The night my wife and I were there, the kitchen was serving tricolor beef ($31.95), a tender filet, broiled and topped with a marvelous gorgonzola cheese and crisp pancetta. The meat had the deep, beefy flavor of a well-cured steak. The gorgonzola was perfect companion, edgy without being too sharp. Beef bliss.
If you judge a kitchen by how well it prepares its side dishes – not a bad standard – this one excels. The green beans that accompanied the veal and the beef were perfect: fresh, non complicated, non sauced up. The beans were allowed to be beans, and quite flavorful at that. It’s a pretty good trick to pull off in January.
Desserts ($8.50) are made on the premises and are more evidence of skill in the kitchen. The tiramisu, creamer than most versions, is heavenly, with delicate coffee notes. the chocolate profiterole is an intense revel.
While the food here is exceptional, there are caveats to the Trattoria Alberto experience. One is the setting. It sits in a strip mall on Crain Highway. Once inside the door, the fresh flowers on the tables, the paintings on the walls and the opera playing in the speakers transport you. But if you look you the window and see the glowing sign of an insurance agency, some of the magic dissipates.
Another is the price. With most entrees in $20 and $30 range (less at lunch), this is fine dining. Market-price specials can be even higher. I happen to think it is worth it, but it might be too steep for some.
The wine list, however, could use some recalculating. Most bottles start at $30 and climb skyward. I read recently that mid-price wines, those selling at $9–$12 retail, are the fastest-growing part of the wine market. Trattoria Alberto could use a few more mid-price wines. That being said, they pour a nice glass of Montepulciano ($8.50).
The staff is gracious, greeting customers warmly, hanging their coats, asking regulars about the well-being of relatives. The staff is also opinionated. If you are even slightly in doubt what you should have for dinner, they will readily tell you. They seem to be right. But do ask the price of the specials.
While Trattoria Alberto is a special-occasion restaurant, it delivers exceptional Northern Italian dishes. Enjoy the cuisine – just don’t look out the window.
Baltimore Sun, Live!“Food, yes. Location, no” February 2011
“Chef-owner Alberto Contestabile certainly puts on a show at this small Glen Burnie stalwart, which dishes up an imaginative menu of superb Northern Italian face (e.g. fresh pasta cooked every day) in a warm in unlifely office-building space; a friendly staff enhances the experience, but expensive tabs rattle the thrifty, who warn like-minded diners to ask the price ove the specials before you order them.”
Zagat SurveyWashington, DC/Baltimore Restaurants, 2011
“Don’t be dissuaded by its location in a nondescript Glen Burnie office building, because this unexpected treasure treates diners to fine Northern Italian food and drink (melt-in-your-mouth homemade pastas) in a pleaseant atmosphere; you’ll be treated like royalty by the skillfull staff, but hold onto your wallet since the prices are exorbitant – if you order items not on the menu, ask how much they are and then expect to pay.”
Zagat SurveyWashington, DC / Baltimore Restaurants, 2010
“Tucked in a run-of-the-mill shopping strip, the restaurant doesn’t exactly broadcast its presence. But this classic, airy trattoria makes us feel the way our parents must have felt when they stepped out of a suburban cul-de-sac for an elegant night out. On a recent visit, we were utterly spoiled by an Italian waiter who treated us as if nothing was more important than finding just the right wine to complement our fettuccine alla matriciana – redolent of tomatoes and nostalgia. But there’s more than red sauce on the mostly northern Italian menu: a veal chop with mushrooms and roasted garlic, chicken with pepperincino, and plenty of beef options. And absolutely choose the berries in zabaglione, potent with Madeira, for desert.”
Baltimore MagazineRanked at #27 “50 Best Restaurants,” March 2009
“One of the World7rsquo;s Top Restaurants”
Zagat SurveyWorld’s Top Restaurants, 2009/2010
“Way out in the burbs near Glen Burnie is this upscale Northern Italian serving exceptional cuisine with a deft touch that’s all the more amazing when you consider the strip center it’s in; from food to service, it’s so gallantly old-world, but some note that specials can induce sticker shock and ask for these prices, couldn’t they hire a decorator?”
Zagat SurveyAmerica’s 1,000 Top Italian Restaurants, 2008
“Indulge in this bastion of authentic Italian cuisine and you’ll be well-rewarded with expert renditions of all the great regional dishes. (Plus, with these portions, you’ll probably have leftovers for days.) Start with whatever fresh seafood Alberto’s got on the grill that day ’ toothsome calamari, creamy scallops, fat shrimp – bathed in a touch of lemon and olive oil. If homemade gnocchi or ravioli are on the menu, order one or the other or both) of these pillowy gems as a primo piatto. And, if veal is your thing, do not pass up the mammoth veal chop. ‘Ours is the best in town,’ boasted our waiter. No argument here: Big as a Cadillac and rosy and succulent as can be, this beauty is a winner.”
Baltimore Magazine“55 Best Restaurants,” Feb. 2004
“The food and service make you think you’re in Italy; the old-world dishes can be superb, the waiters are the types who can tell you where the olive oil is actually from and Alberto himself might come out to assist you in selecting a dish, he’s such a doll.”
Zagat Survey Rated Excellent, 2004/2005
“Very few restaurants will transport you so thoroughly back to the motherland as Alberto’s will…And luck will be with you if you’re a tripe fan and the trippa alla Romana is available. It’s heaven on a plate, meltingly tender in a gorgeous white wine sauce…[Alberto himself] will take care of you as if his elegant digs were your own.”
Baltimore Magazine“50 Best Restaurants,” Feb. 2003
“Food rating: ‘Extraordinary to perfection.’ Those who’ve discovered it rhapsodize about ‘extraordinary’ cooking; definitely ‘not your typical suburban restaurant.’”
Zagat SurveyWashington, DC/Baltimore Restaurants, 2003
“The food itself is the best surprise of all.”
Baltimore Magazine65 Best Restaurants, February 2002
“Ah, Glen Burnie. Land of endless stoplights, the MVA and, surprisingly, Trattoria Alberto. In a way, the fact that ‘ristorante’ is misspelled on the restaurant’s marquee is strangely appropriate. Nevertheless, once you are inside, Crain Highway gives way to soothing pastel room with white linens and pleasant guitar music. This upscale Italian is the place to order plump, briny steamed clams or a grilled-shellfish appteizer piled with tender, smokey shrimp, scallops, and squid, before moving on to meaty medallions of monkfish or rich, satisfying osso buco. If you’re lucky enough to have the watier with the bushy eyebrows, pester him to death about the wine list, and note his endless patience.
Baltimore MagazineOur Seventy Favorite Restaurants, February 2001
“This special-occasion Northern Italian staffed by tuxedoed watiers delivers inspired cooking (the homemade gnocchi is superb).”
Zagat Survey Washington, DC / Baltimore Restaurants, 2001
“Award of Distinction”
Zagat Survey Award of Distinction, 2001
“One of the best restaurants in Anne Arundel County”
Baltimore Magazine“Restaurant Reader Poll Results,” 1990
“Alberto’s delivers a wide range of exquisite Northern Italian cuisine that ranks among the area’s finest restaurants.”
Sun MagazineMara Gormley Proctor, “Dining Out,” Sept. 1987
“Excellence in Northern Italian Food.”
Baltimore Magazine11th Annual Best and Worst of Baltimore, 1986