Il Pizzico

15209 Frederick Rd.

Rockville

309-0610

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Prices: Most items $3.50 to $5.25.

Credit Cards: None.

Title this one "Miracle on Frederick Road." There, in an ordinary-looking deli-carryout with five tables, a first-class cook is serving authentic Italian food -- some of it marvelous -- at rock-bottom prices, and on real china and cutlery, no less.

He bakes his own bread, makes fresh pizza two days a week and makes some of the pastas from scratch. Ditto all the sauces and desserts. In his spare time, he'll cook or bake to order for home parties.

The menu lists about half a dozen sandwiches, a few salads, pastas and meat entrees and two or three desserts. Plus there are daily soup, pasta and meat specials and usually a house-baked cake not shown on the menu.

Some of the soup specials have been wonderful, including stracciatella, a rich chicken broth with spinach and egg that makes most Chinese egg drop soups seem anemic, and a delicate but flavorful cream of vegetable soup.

The salads are outstanding, and bargains to boot, all made with sparkling-fresh leaf lettuce and a nicely herbed red wine vinaigrette. Most pasta salads are pretty blah, but Il Pizzico's version, booted up with tart pickled vegetables, is a gem.

The antipasto, generous with meat and cheese and real, briny black olives (not canned junk), is a marvel at $2.50. Just right for lunch or a dinner appetizer, and a specialty of the house, is the crostini, a wedge of that house-made bread topped with cheese, meat and vegetables. The toppings change daily.

Among the pastas, the stuffed shells are outstanding, firm in texture and filled with the fluffiest ricotta. Nearly as good is the house-made ravioli, with a similar ricotta filling. Both are served with a lovely, fresh-tasting tomato sauce with what tastes like fresh basil. When a pasta with cream sauce is available, go for it. It's the genuine article, with a sharp, distinct flavor, real cream and no gumminess.

The meat dishes are decent enough, but not as outstanding as the pastas. The roast chicken has good, moist meat, nicely flavored but without the crisp surface generally expected of a roasted bird. The meatballs are hefty, tasty beauties, with a minimum of filler and an excellent tomato sauce, but they'd be a more satisfying meal if served with a bit of pasta. The Italian sausage, served with the same tomato sauce, is the only real disappointment at Il Pizzico, dry and lacking in flavor.

The pizza, available only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is excellent. Baked on tiles, the crust doesn't have the crisp, brown bottom we're partial to, but the rest of the pie is exemplary: a puffy rim, good-quality cheese, and chunky, fresh-tasting tomato.

Don't leave without dessert. The "chocolate salami" is marvelous, made of high-quality dark chocolate that's mixed with crushed vanilla cookies rolled into a salami-shaped cylinder, chilled and sliced into disks. The tiramisu is better than we've had at many upscale Italian restaurants, and the occasionally available chocolate mousse cake is a deep-flavored jewel.