By AMANDA C. DAVIS
POLAND – The staff at Carrabba’s Italian Grill believes in making its customers feel at home.
When dining there recently, they did just that. We enjoyed good food and plenty of laughs with friends, old and new. The place, located at 1320 Boardman Poland Rd., was warm and inviting – the staff even more so.
I’m not wild about chain restaurants. It’s nothing personal – I just prefer to spend money at any one of the great, locally owned joints around here.
And in a town where there’s plenty of good Italian food to be had, you wouldn’t think Carrabba’s stands a chance. But oh, they do.
Just ask any of their loyal customers, some who come from as far as Pittsburgh to wine and dine.
Proprietor/managing partner Stephen Hatszegi said at least three to four groups make the trek from Pittsburgh and beyond every day. The next closest Pennsylvania Carrabba’s is in Philadelphia.
And that’s what’s cool – it’s not on every corner. There are nine in Ohio, the next closest in North Canton. Carrabba’s is part of Blooming Brands Inc., a group that includes Bonesfish Grill, Outback Steakhouse and Flemings.
Though Carrabba’s must adhere to corporate standards, each location operates individually so there’s more room for individuality.
So let’s talk food. Instead of using boring clichés like “delicious” and “mouth watering” to describe the food, I will simply say, “Eat there. Like, really soon.”
Everything was delicious. There I go using that word. But there isn’t a better way to describe the dishes presented to us. None of them were remotely questionable in presentation or taste.
I dined with Kate Sarver, friend and fellow food enthusiast. She and I were equally impressed with the food and service provided by Hatszegi, manager Cory Irwin, waitress Paige Kelly and the chefs.
Hatszegi wanted us to try a wide variety of menu items so we let him choose our course for the afternoon.
We sampled the very popular sangrias – blackberry, peach and classic red. The blackberry sangria – with hints of vanilla and citrus, was my favorite, while Kate preferred the classic red, a bolder, spicier blend made with wine and brandy. The peach was delicious as well, blended with White Zinfandel, peach vodka, Patrón Citrónge and juice.
Next came the “small plates,” a new menu item for Carrabba’s. We tried
the grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and fontina and drizzled with a balsamic glaze ($3.79); mozzarella rustica, crispy balls of mozzarella and ricotta with Italian herbs, coated in Panko breadcrumbs and served with marinara ($3.79); and Italian lettuce wraps – wood grilled chicken and vegetables with ricotta salata in a Mediterranean lemon vinaigrette, drizzled with port wine reduction ($5.29).
The small plates were perfectly sized – smaller than a regular appetizer, just enough if you’re in the mood to sample.
A salad with the house dressing, creamy Parmesan, was crisp and flavorful. Warm bread came out next, accompanied by a delicious herb mix and olive oil for dipping. Mama Mandola’s Sicilian chicken soup, made with ditalini-type pasta, was very flavorful – a little spicy – and brimming with freshly pulled chicken, carrots, onions and celery. The sausage and lentil soup, with Italian fennel sausage made especially for Carrabba’s, was perfectly spiced and could easily make a meal on its own (cups $3.99/bowls $6.99).
Kate sampled the Salmon Cetriolini. She adored the meal, saying the wood grilled salmon was very fresh and the garnish of tomato, cucumber and dill balanced well with the richness of the sauce. “It added a fresh, clean element to the dish,” she said. The entrée ($18.99) was paired with broccoli, lightly tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a hint of red bell pepper. While she found it flavorful, she preferred the side of julienned zucchini that came with the popular Chicken Bryan.
This wood grilled chicken ($17.29) was topped with goat cheese, sundried
tomatoes, basil and a lemon butter sauce. Perfection. The zucchini was sautéed in a fresh, light sauce of crushed tomatoes, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
Next we tried prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin medallions served with a side of cavatappi ($14.49). The pork was tender and topped with a sauce combining port wine, figs, green apples and onions – a perfect blend of sweet and savory. The corkscrew-shaped pasta was topped with Amatriciana, a spicy tomato sauce with caramelized onions and pancetta – easily my favorite of Carrabba’s sauces.
Other side choices include homemade garlic mashed potatoes, vegetable of the day or pasta.
Our final course included vanilla gelato, chocolate hazelnut gelato and raspberry sorbetto, topped with an almond biscotti ($4.79), and a piece of Sogno Di Cioccolata, or “Chocolate Dream,” a rich fudge brownie topped with chocolate mousse, homemade whipped cream and chocolate sauce ($7.99).
Though we were stuffed, we soldiered on for the good of the review. The gelato and sorbetto were delicious and perfectly sized for anyone looking for a bit of a sweet ending. The light, fluffiness of the mousse and whipped cream balanced out the rich, filling brownie, perhaps allowing us to justify eating most of this giant dessert.
The menu also includes larger appetizers, wood-fired pizza, entrée salads, chicken, pork, veal, steaks, chops and seafood. Gluten-free and whole-wheat pasta is also available. Carrabba’s made-to-order approach means that very few items have been pre-prepared, allowing diners to customize meals to their preference.
“One of our mottos here is ‘anything goes,’” Paige said. “We could literally make you anything.” In other words, if you don’t see it on the menu, the staff will do its best to accommodate your order.
Weekly specials are offered Monday-Wednesday, with the latter being “Pizza and Wine Wednesday.” Any wood-fired pizza is $9.99 and they offer $5 glasses of sangria and $10 off bottles of wine.
The restaurant, usually open during the week at 4 p.m. and 11 a.m. on weekends, has extended hours for the holiday season. Until Jan. 3, Carrabba’s is open at 11 a.m. seven days a week.
Call (330) 629-2356 for call-ahead seating or to carry out with curbside pickup. Catering is also available.