Tino’s Italian Bistro in Columbia
By Martha Thomas
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Tino’s Italian Bistro in Columbia is a full-service restaurant, complete with Sunday night deals on bottles of wine and the promise of quick sit-down lunches for workers from nearby office buildings. But owner Chris Infantino, a former mortgage lender, aimed for a brisk trade in carryout as part of his original business plan. So he set up an online ordering system within months of opening in 2011; along with delivery, it accounts for about 30 percent of his business.
His food is a satisfying array of red-sauced classics. Many of the recipes come from his family. The popular meatball, for example, worthy of stand-alone status as an appetizer, is gently seasoned and softened with a blend that we’re guessing includes Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Infantino won’t reveal his great-grandmother’s formula.
Dense and chewy baguettes are baked daily in-house. Generous chunks are accompanied by crushed red pepper flakes and herb-infused oil for dipping, even when packed for carryout.
I logged onto Tino’s Web site recently to schedule an order for pickup at noon. When I walked through the restaurant door, my food had just been placed on the stainless-steel shelf between the kitchen and dining room. I’d paid in advance by credit card (though there’s an option to pay upon pickup), so the entire transaction involved almost no verbal communication. Efficient; to some, that constitutes a plus in an age of texts and Tweets.
The pizza (10-inch, $9.99; 14-inch, $13.99; 18-inch, $15.99) is thin-crusted but not crisp, which facilitates folding the slices as you eat: New York style, a personal preference of mine. Its tangy, house-made tomato sauce is applied with a light touch. (Sicilian deep-dish is also available, $19.99.) A single serving of pasta is large enough to be shared by two or three.
The extravagant-sounding Veal Chesapeake ($20.99) features slices of veal pounded thin, sauteed with crabmeat and served atop angel hair pasta in a creamy pink sauce. Truth be told, the dish was too rich; we preferred the more straightforward shrimp scampi (lunch, $11.99; dinner, $17.99), whose star ingredient was firm yet flavorful, with al dente linguine tossed in garlic and lemon.
There’s also a “create your own” pasta selection. Start with noodles or gnocchi, then pick sauces and proteins to mix and match. Tino’s offers a handful of gluten-free pasta dishes.
From the short list of Italian hoagies, we weren’t disappointed with our eggplant Parmesan ($7.99), thin slices of breaded eggplant drizzled in tomato sauce, topped with melted cheese and mounded on a soft roll. Desserts ($5.99 to $7.99) include cannoli, tiramisu and a light strawberry-filled millefoglie pastry.