Some times – many times, actually – I just want to relax in an old-style, friendly, family-owned Italian restaurant where big bowls and plates of comforting food are leisurely served away from the hot spots, trendy restaurants and crowds.
Such a place exists in the Washington, D.C., area, far from the city’s post-inaugural buzz. About 20 miles out into the Maryland suburbs, in a strip mall behind a gas station, Italian Pines offers traditional Northern and Southern Italian dishes in an unassuming, friendly atmosphere. The fact that it’s been serving beloved pasta and seafood dishes for 18 years speaks volumes.
The small restaurant has become a family favorite, one we visit every time I travel to the D.C. area to see my parents. Mom always orders the ugly but tasty Rock Fish. Always. My father is usually torn between scallops or chicken livers. I can’t pass up the big steaming bowl of mussels. We fight over the bread, wash it down with glasses of admirable Chianti and follow it up with a dish of ice cream.
Italian Pines recently moved from one side of Gaithersburg, Maryland, to the other side of the sprawling suburb, but its fine food and its fans followed. The new location, on Highway 28 at the intersection of Quince Orchard Road, is a little brighter than the old location, with lemon meringue walls and white tablecloths.
The menu appears at first to be huge, made even bigger by the dozen specials that fill the dry-erase board at the front door each day. But a closer inspection of the regular menu reveals many variations on a theme — different pastas with red sauces and a variety of meat, poultry and seafood dishes.
Entrees come with a side of pasta and an admirably thin red sauce with enough spice to keep it interesting but not lumpy, clumpy or cloyingly sweet as so often found in house sauces.
Italian Pines is a family-friendly restaurant in the best sense. Kids play on the clean carpeted floor while the owners’ family or the staff carry armfuls of food over their heads. Couples whisper at the corner tables while groups of after-work adults laugh the evening away.
The wine list holds no real surprises, but works well with the variety on the menu. Servings are ample, but I’ve yet to have anything left over to take home at the end of a meal.
Italian Pines does not have a web site but can be reached at 301.977.4600. Reservations are not required.