Rose-colored walls. White brick. Fake columns. Cut-glass chandeliers. Italian Renaissance sculptures in miniature. An open kitchen with a Plexiglas partition. No windows. Where are we? Maria’s in Portland.

For some, it’s a nostalgic and enjoyable throwback. Think 1970s. The grown-ups are taking the family to a rare dinner out, to a gourmet spot, with fancy and authentic Italian dishes like veal scallopini.

For others, the restaurant, run by the Napolitano family since 1960, is frozen in the past. They like a sleeker, airier design and updated and trendier food, preferably locally sourced. And something from a pig would be nice.

Both camps can’t quarrel with the substantial portions, good prices or the convivial service. Maria’s is well-tended and family-owned. These are reasons enough to give it a look.

And the eatery, tucked along Cumberland Avenue near the former Public Market, was the right spot to take a 15-year-old nephew after his vigorous high school soccer game. He needed some serious fuel. He got it here, and loved it. Home he went with a tower of takeout containers.

The discriminating adults were less sanguine, but sated. Here’s how it went:


Three meatballs ($7.50, appetizer) were just the right texture — tender but not crumbly — and doused in a well-seasoned tomato sauce. Two thumbs up. Stuffed clams came in two half-shells, the seafood buried in a mound of savory Thanksgiving-style dressing that unfortunately was studded with grit from the clams ($8).

Bruschetta ($7.50) was late-summer heaven, a thick and soggy slab of homemade Italian bread soaked in fresh tomatoes and olive oil. Caesar salad lacked “Caesar,” said our teenage diner — he meant it had little character, and I agreed. Moreover, although the menu said it was served with or without anchovies, we were not asked our preference — we would have preferred the fish — and it came without. ($6.50 for one; $9.50 to share).

We ordered four entrees from the regular menu and one special. The Lobster Fra Diavolo ($28) was a good and fiery tomato-based entree, with two out-of-shell claws and tail meat mixed in with a gargantuan portion of spaghettini.

For the special, a tender haddock filet circled a fist-sized ball of the same stuffing as the clam appetizer’s, a light sauce dotted with small pieces of shredded lobster on top, spaghettini in marinara on the side ($21). Fine, but a dish that these days seems ordinary.

Homemade mushroom-filled ravioli ($16) were delicious by themselves — firm and yielding king-sized pillows with a good dose of minced mushrooms inside. The thick sauce tasted like heavy cream and not much else. Fork it all up with curls of the prosciutto for texture and interest. Although we asked for the smaller portion ($13), the larger size ($16) was delivered. We pointed it out and said it was fine, but no one offered to take it off the tab, either.

Our young guest scarfed down Pollo Scarpariello — chicken breast with sliced homemade sausage and peppers in a white wine sauce. It was $15 for a tasty and substantial dish, and a very good value. He felt he had eaten well. (He then turned to his left and added some mushroom ravioli to his plate.)


The veal in the Scallopini Antonio was bland, and the Marsala wine sauce a little oily, but olives and prosciutto created some pizzazz, and the dish came accompanied by spaghettini with that same tasty tomato sauce ($18).

Our waiter, dressed in a white shirt and a black vest and his speech bearing a Mediterranean accent, was a hoot. He used his repertoire of humorous one-liners judiciously, inserting them at times that didn’t interfere with our table conversation. All our needs were taken care of with an air of comfortable nonchalance, which made the experience quite pleasant, despite the fact that the first course took a while to arrive.

After a few brisk wipes of the burgundy-colored vinyl tablecloth (put that fabric, probably a cost-saver, in the minus column), we got our desserts. And they were standouts: a cheesecake that was at once light and rich and covered with a sauce of wild blueberries; a moist, homestyle chocolate cake; cannoli with a perfectly crusty tube (not made in-house) with a luscious filling; homemade gelato of toasted coconut and pineapple.

The cappucino? Eccellentissimo!

Some customers rave about this spot. Indeed, it seems to do a brisk weekend business. Much of the food is made in-house from long-standing recipes, and prices are moderate.

Our outing was pleasant. Upon a return, I’d pretty much stick with the meatballs, marinara and pasta. (Note: We didn’t have a chance to try a pizza — there are four — or any of the vegetarian options, which include eggplant parmesan and portabello caprese). And desserts.

Others might find the old-school, Old World milieu and classic menu an excellent escape from the blustery winds of fall.

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer.


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