Baltimore's Little Italy is a hot date night destination

Little ItalyWFor couples who love Italian food, planning date night in Baltimore's Little Italy is a no-brainer. The variety of restaurants means there's something for everyone.

Suzie and Lee Altpeter, of Glen Burnie, had their rehearsal dinner at Café Gia in 2008 and ever since, the restaurant is high on their list of date night destinations.

"The ambiance is perfection, unique and romantic all at once," Suzie Altpeter says. "But most importantly, the food is amazing!"

But even if big meals aren't your thing, the Little Italy is still a great date destination.

"It's not just dinner," says Joseph Gardella, owner of Joe Benny's, one of the neighborhood's newer spots. "It's a walk through history."

And it's even more. From outdoor movies to sports leagues to restaurants, Little Italy has something for every type of couple.

Little Italy festivals and movies

Sometimes, the best one-on-one moments happen in the middle of a big crowd. With two saints' festivals during the summer and open air movies every Friday night in July and August, Little Italy provides plenty of opportunity for couples who are happiest when surrounded by others.

The festivals are big neighborhood parties with live music and great food and drinks. The Feast of St. Anthony takes place June 6-7 on Stiles and Exeter streets, and the St. Gabriel Italian Festival is Aug. 15-16 at High and Stiles streets. For both, admission is a $1 donation.

The Cinema al Fresco, or Open Air Film Fest, includes classics from "Moonstruck" to "Rocky," and takes place at the corner of High and Stiles streets. Live music begins at 7 p.m.; movies start at 9 p.m. Take a lawn chair. Movie-goers may bring picnics or carry-out from local restaurants. Movies are free and popcorn is provided.

Visit littleitalymd.com for more information.

Bocce BallLittleItalyBocceW

D'Alesandro Park on Stiles Street is bocce heaven between May and September, when Little Italy's public courts are busiest. Either bring your own balls to play the game, which is an Italian spin on lawn bowling, or watch local league players in action Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings or during one of the tournaments in the summer and fall.


For information about how to play bocce, tournament dates and joining a league, visit littleitalymd.com/t/little_italy_bocce.

Cocktail spots

Although Little Italy has plenty of restaurants with bars, there are few standalone bars in the neighborhood. So the opening of the wine and cocktail bar Pane e Vino last spring was met with much excitement. The petite new spot is perfect for a "pre- or post-dinner libation" and snacks, says owner (and Little Italy resident) Gia Daniella Fracassetti, whose family also runs Suzie Altpeter's favorite, Café Gia.

A perfect night might start at Pane e Vino, with a glass of red or a grapefruit cocktail called Charm City Girl, then move next door to Café Gia, where the kitchen mixes traditional Italian classics with edgier, more modern foods like sous vide calamari and an Italian spin on paella.
For a fabulous after-dinner cocktail, Gia and her husband, Gianfranco, love the creamy limoncello at Aldo's Ristorante.

"I can't think of a better way to cap off a date night than with a glass of our house-made limoncello," says Sergio Vitale, who runs the restaurant alongside his father, Aldo.

"It is so, so good," Gia says. "We order it every time."

Pane e Vino, 408 South High St., Baltimore, 410-685-3300
Café Gia, 410 South High St., 410-685-6727, cafegiabaltimore.com
Aldo's Ristorante Italiano, 306 South High St., 410-727-0700, aldositaly.com

Casual diners

Last year, Joseph Gardella opened Joe Benny's, Little Italy's first focacceria, where he serves fabulous focaccia (Italian flat bread similar to pizza dough) topped with fresh ingredients, alongside a handful of small plates (try the meatballs) and tasty cocktails.

With walls full of pictures and artifacts from his family's hometown in Sicily plus a super-friendly staff, dinner at Joe Benny's isn't fancy, but it is fun.

"I believe that good food and personal interaction really makes a restaurant stand out," Gardella says. "Dinner is more than food. It's an experience you can remember and share with others."

Joe Benny's, 313 South High St., Baltimore, 443-835-4866, joebennys.com

Traditional Little Italy

Many Marylanders grew up going to a specific Little Italy restaurant, over and over again, with their families. Hitting one of those tried and true spots for date night can be a blast — and can help you see the restaurant with new, grown-up eyes.

At Chiapparelli's, the spinach ravioli is as great as ever. Sabatino's Bookmaker's salad still can't be beat. And at La Scala, there's still a ton of fun to be had on the restaurant's indoor bocce court.

And no trip to Little Italy feels fully complete without a stop by Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop for one of their famous desserts and a cup of coffee. Try the "bocce ball" cream puff. You won't be sorry.

Chiapparelli's, 237 South High St., Baltimore, 410-837-0309, chiapparellis.com
Sabatino's, 901 Fawn St., 410-727-9414, sabatinos.com
La Scala Ristorante, 1012 Eastern Ave., 410-783-9209, lascaladining.com
Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop, 222 Albemarle St., 410-685-4905, vaccarospastry.com

By Kit Waskom Pollard