C.J. Ferrari's is one of those places with a menu that pleases everyone.
Start with the bruschetta ($3.75)--three thick slices of homemade garlic bread, crispy on the outside, covered lightly with fresh garlic and topped with ripe, juicy diced tomatoes, scallions and Parmesan cheese.
Next come salads, served with every entree, made with crisp lettuce, chopped red cabbage and shredded carrots with crispy croutons (house-made, of course). I tried the house-made tomato-basil vinaigrette, a zesty puree of tomatoes that was surprisingly spicy and an excellent accompaniment to the salad.
I regularly choose seafood in Italian restaurants and Ferrari's has several options on the menu. I immediately went for frutti di mare ($16.50)--a mixture of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari in a slightly spicy, rich tomato sauce over fresh pasta. The seafood was perfectly cooked and very flavorful, not in the least overpowered by the tangy tomato sauce.
Among the chicken and veal specialties, we tried veal sicilano ($13.50). The thinly sliced, lightly breaded veal was layered with fresh eggplant, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and then baked in a well-seasoned tomato sauce. As with all of Ferrari's entrees, it was served with spaghetti.
From the extensive list of pastas my friend selected the rigatoni pancetta ($9), pasta mixed with Italian bacon and peas and covered in a cream sauce. My daughter tried the fettuccine con pollo ($10.50)--moist chicken, a hefty portion of mushrooms and thick wide noodles. Traditionally it's served with a brandy cream sauce, but my daughter found that marinara was more to her liking.
Even though the servings were plentiful we could not pass up the tiramisu ($4) for dessert--fresh whipped cream covering the ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese.
Ferrari's also serves lunch on weekdays (except Mondays when it's closed). The luncheon menu, which doubles as the carryout menu, varies from the standard Italian choices, such as pizza, subs and calzones, to fancier entrees, such as veal Florentine or the shrimp and scallop casserole. From the number of people I saw leaving with pizza boxes, my guess is that the pizzas are just as delicious as the dinners.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays most bottles of wine are half price, which is an added incentive to try Ferrari's.
C.J. Ferrari's, 14311 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, Md. 20707. Call 301-725-1772. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays. The bar, which serves a limited menu, is open until midnight Tuesday through Saturday and until 11 p.m. on Sundays.
CAPTION: Joe DiBattista, owner of C.J. Ferrari's, with his Trout Picatta. Close-up shows the dish's olive-topped scallops.