When I heard a “casual” Italian restaurant was opening in the former home of Germantown Craft House (and, briefly, Goss Ave. Pub), I envisioned cheap plates of spaghetti and pizza by the slice.
When I went with friends to Sarino for dinner on a recent Saturday, we were informed we were the last walk-in table — making reservations was highly recommended to us for future weekend visits. Duly noted.
The atmosphere in the A-frame structure, which sort of resembles a misplaced ski lodge, hasn’t changed much from its early days — it still feels far more like fine dining than casual dining, which many projected was an issue in the demise of the Craft House.
Many posited that concept was too upscale and even overpriced for the neighborhood; Sarino isn’t overpriced, but be prepared to spend some dough.
All that said, an authentic Italian eatery with Neapolitan-style pizza apparently is exactly what the neighborhood steeped in hardworking German roots was after because the place sure was bustling while we dined.
When we were seated, we quickly were brought waters, and our server was quite friendly and eager to help us navigate the menu, which featured a charcuterie and cheese section, a number of pizza options, pasta dishes and entrees ranging from swordfish to a New York strip steak.
My girlfriend, Cynthia, and I, along with our friends Jeff and Janey, decided to start off with a few selections from the charcuterie and cheese menu, but weren’t quite sure what to order. Our server helped us figure out our choices, and we also placed dinner orders — a Calabrese salami pizza for Cynthia and me, and a ham and ricotta pizza for them.
Our appetizer plate didn’t take long to be delivered to our table, and it came with a few extra flavors — you can order meats and cheese a la carte, or choose four for $21 — that included olives, toasted bread, jam and eggplant caponata.
Our plate included spicy capicola, a pork shoulder salami and bresaola, a salt-cured beef. The two cheeses we chose were a lightly sweet, soft Fontina cheese as well as a 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The latter was the hit of the plate — heck, possibly even the meal — as a flavorful, dry, earthy-tasting treat.
Both meats were good choices, with the spicy pork having a bit richer flavor, while the Fontina made a nice balance for the Parmigiano. Janey and I attacked the olives, while the eggplant caponata also was a hit for the table.
Not long after we had finished picking at the remains of the cheese and charcuterie, our pizzas arrived — well timed, indeed. Jeff and Janey’s pizza was topped with a heavy layer of arugula, and the fresh greens made for an attractive-looking pie. They seemed pleased with their choice.
Our pizza was topped with plenty of fresh-smoked mozzarella, another dose of the Parmigiano, a tasty tomato base and Calabrese that was chopped into small strips.
It was the latter that brought out the most flavor, and Cynthia, normally leaning toward a herbivore, said surprisingly that the pizza made her want more of the delicious, salty-meets-spicy Calabrese. The crust was crispy with a substantial outer ring, with the thinner crust near the center being pliable.
The drawback was that the pizzas looked to be roughly 12-inchers, providing four medium-sized slices. Even after eating the appetizer and each having two slices, we found ourselves feeling hungry again three hours later.
It seemed after the fact that the pizzas really are more suitable as an individual entree unless you partake more from the lengthy appetizer list that includes items like meatballs, mussels, roasted cauliflower, tuna crudo and more.
A dozen signature pizzas grace the menu, or you can build your own. Pastas include carbonara, linguine with clams, Pomodoro, Bolognese and more, and most of them can be ordered in half or full orders — presumably so you can take full advantage of the appetizer options.
Entrees top out at $25 for the New York strip, whereas you can get a couple of appetizers for $6 each or less, and the half-order pastas average around $7.
Interestingly, our meal took about an hour and 15 minutes, and there were several empty tables when we left, so it looked like they could have accommodated more walk-in diners. Still, it might be best to schedule a reservation, just in case.
Sarino, located at 1030 Goss Ave., is open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Cocktails and craft beer are available, along with an impressive list of Italian wines.