Baronessa, Rockville, MD

After winding my freshly tuned car through the backroads of northern Montgomery County, I cut over on Route 28, stopping in for a late lunch at Baronessa.

There was only one other diner in the restaurant, who ordered the Melanzane alla Parmigiana, and that sounded good to me. The gentleman who took my order asked me if I wanted penne or linguini as my side dish. “Are either of them homemade?” I asked. “Nah,” he shook his head. “Just the lasagna and cannelloni.

So I went ahead and changed my order to a lunch special of Lasagna ($9.95), tacked on a Caesar Salad ($2.00), and a Diet Coke ($2.00).

There were nice touches in this suburban Italian restaurant with it’s real tablecloths and paper napkins. Thoughtful displays of artwork on the wall – frescos by Edna Searles signed and dated February, 2005 which probably make the restaurant itself two months older than A real, honest-to-goodness Southern Italian cook, Antonia Cenere (perhaps “The Baronessa” herself), proudly featured on the restaurant’s website. I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with this place, a small, family-owned business toiling for 7.5 years.

At a $2 supplement, the Caesar salad is a no-brainer addition to the lunch specials. It used romaine leaves that were evenly cut, and more importantly, properly dressed – there was no “drizzling” of Caesar dressing on this; it was made to order, and mixed in a bowl. There were no anchovies, but the lettuce and dressing were in correct proportion, and the salad was a nice way to start the lunch. Even the humble Diet Coke was served in a glass glass, with the top half of the paper left on the straw, and a lemon wedge placed on the side.

The generous wedge of lasagna took a fairly long time to arrive (all the more reason to enjoy a salad), and that’s because it was heated to order in an oven, with the elliptical baking dish oven-hot to the touch. Baronessa is closed on Mondays, and since this was Tuesday lunch, I wasn’t expecting any culinary miracles. The lasagna was the gooey, meaty, cheesy type, with an abundance of ricotta, and what might have been a slice of provolone melted on top. It tended towards the bland, and could have used something to awaken it, even button mushrooms, or maybe some onion; I added a few shakes of salt, and went through exactly one slice of sub-par, grocery-store quality, Italian bread (served with foil-wrapped pats of real butter), to swipe up the sauce. I took the second half of the dish home, and my son cheerfully had it at 6:15 this morning, in the car, on the way to school, along with a Susan G. Komen Georgetown Cupcake left over from two nights ago. The poor lad often has his dad’s leftovers on Thursday mornings, but generally draws the line when I offer him cold Thai food.

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