Big Eating in Little Italy 

Eat-in or take-out, either way you’ll be taking home some food at Maggiano’s.

Maggiano’s serves huge portions of hearty, red-sauce-based Southern Italian favorites in a sophisticated atmosphere. It’s a big, noisy, red-checkered tablecloth place, which can seat 300 in the main dining room, on a mezzanine and on an outdoor patio. A large, smoky bar, accented by a black-and-white marble floor, offers piano music at night.

The main dining room is especially attractive after dark, when large globes that descend from a two-story high ceiling and sconces on dark wood pillars cast romantic shadows.

Like the tony retail establishments nearby, there is nothing like Maggiano’s in Richmond.

It’s a place where you can go for a special night out — its banquet rooms are sure to be popular for wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs — or to treat the whole family to Sunday dinner.

If there are at least four people in your party, the family-style dinners are a relative bargain.

On a recent Saturday night we sat next to a family of eight which spent two hours sharing an all-you-can-eat feast. It costs $23 a person, but you get two of the dozen appetizers, two of half-a-dozen salads, two of 16 pastas, two of 15 main courses (steaks and some seafood add $2 to $4 per person) and two of 15 desserts. Vegetable sides are an extra $2.

Because there were just two of us, we didn’t get to try as many of the dishes as our neighbors, but by beginning with a bombalina platter ($13), we were able to sample five appetizers.

The standouts were a creamy baked spinach and artichoke dish ($8 for a full portion), crispy fried zucchini sticks with a silky lemon aioli dip that one employee called “good enough to bathe in” ($6 for a full order, $3 for a half), giant stuffed mushrooms ($11 and $8), toasted bruschetta with plenty of garlic, diced tomatoes, olives and oil ($6) and crispy onion strings ($4).

The leftovers from the appetizer platter filled two cartons.

Among the house specialties, the veal and mushroom ravioli ($15) and gnocchi in a tomato vodka sauce ($15, or $12 for a half-order) were standouts. Half orders are available for all the pastas and most of the seafood.

Even lunch offers take-home possibilities. The veal parmesan ($13) was two large pieces of lightly breaded and seasoned meat, (acceptable but not of the highest quality) in a marinara sauce. The chicken scallopine ($10) was two flattened breasts, lightly floured and seasoned with lemon juice, capers and parsley. Each came with a side of spaghetti marinara or fettuccine alfredo with broccoli, and each got its separate container for the trip home.

One disappointing rule is that no substitutions are allowed. That ploy can escalate the bill if, for example, you want to lighten an otherwise heavy lunch with a side salad ($3) in place of the pasta.

Maggiano’s considers take-home food so seriously that it has the “Ten Commandments of Carry-Out” posted on the kitchen wall, which include making sure the parmesan is replenished, including instructions for reheating and attaching a menu.

If I have spent a lot of space talking about portion size, it’s because while the food is good, it’s not spectacular. More subtle sauces and interesting combinations are available at a number of locally owned restaurants, such as Mamma Zu’s and Amici.

But the combination of solid Italian food in a bustling atmosphere and a wait staff that mixes veteran servers — our waitress had been at the Crazy Greek for 20 years — and enthusiastic youngsters is as welcome an addition to the local dining scene as Saks and Nordstrom are to retailing.

The walk-in wait the first couple of weeks was up to two and a half hours but that should shorten with the openings of a couple of formidable competitors, Tara Thai and The Copper Grill. S

Maggiano’s Little Italy ($$$)
Short Pump Town Center
Lunch 11-3, Monday-Saturday, 12-3 Sunday.
Dinner 3-10, Monday-Friday, 3-11 Saturday, 3-9 Sunday
Reservations recommended.


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