Since 1996, DeSantis' Pizza Grill & Bar has brought a taste of Baltimore's Highlandtown community home here to Perry Hall. The restaurant serves the tomato pies (that's pizza to you and me) that Matthew's Pizzeria on Eastern Avenue have been making since 1943. What makes this nostalgic for me is the fact that my parents just happened to go on their first date at, you guessed it, Matthew's Pizzeria.
When walking in to DeSantis' for the first time, you might feel like you have just driven down along Eastern Avenue. Baltimore-themed murals, depicting various Highlandtown landmarks, such as the Patterson Theatre and the well known Mr. Boh of the National Bohemian Brewery, grace the walls. The restaurant itself is divided into two halves, with one side having a cozy dining room, and the other side a large bar and eating area.
Upon arriving on Saturday night, we saw that the restaurant was packed, yet my family and I did not have to wait for very long to be seated at a table. Since college football was on television, my family and I choose to sit at a booth in the bar section. Our server, Megan, was extremely attentive and frequently checked up on us.
We began our meal by selecting the fried mac n' cheese appetizer. This hefty portion of more than 12 wedges of creamy macaroni and cheese, lightly breaded and fried to perfection, was quite satisfying. Unlike many fried appetizers, these wedges were not overly greasy. On prior visits to DeSantis', I have found the same to be true for the fried ravioli, which was also just the right combination of breading and seasoning. If you prefer something a bit lighter, I would recommend the bruschetta, crisp pieces of garlic bread layered with diced tomatoes, onions, Kalamata olives, and mozzarella cheese.
For entrees, we decided to get a variety of selections, ranging from pasta, to pub fare, to the tomato pies that made Matthew's famous. My wife selected the everything tomato pie. When DeSantis' menu says everything, it means it. This large pizza had tangy tomato sauce, mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheeses, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, green olives and anchovies. I loved this pizza, but be careful though if you're not a fan of anchovies, as their salty flavor does assert itself. If you not sure about anchovies, you might want to ask for them on the side.
On other visits to DeSantis', I have really enjoyed their Roman pie. This pizza consists of roasted garlic olive oil, two types of Italian cheeses, chopped pepperoni, ricotta cheese and oregano. The addition of the ricotta gave this pizza a great texture. For the more adventurous diners, you can even find such unique choices like a crab pizza or even pizza with barbecued chicken.
On the pasta side of the house, I had a truly wonderful dish, the Fontina chops. These enormous twin boneless pork chops were smothered with mushroom Marsala wine sauce, crispy Prosciutto ham, and Fontina cheese. I would hold this entrée up to just about anything you could get in Baltimore's Little Italy. Even better, for just $14.99, my entrée also came with two side dishes. I chose the caesar salad and the spaghetti with tomato sauce. The caesar salad was good, but I personally would like to have had a bit more of the creamy caesar dressing. The spaghetti was big enough to be a meal on its own, and was topped with a zesty tomato sauce.
My son was not in a particularly adventurous mood, so he chose the kid's cheeseburger meal. To call this a kid's cheeseburger would not really be true, as this burger is just as big as anything I have seen served to adults. A hefty portion of beer-battered fries completed this very solid pub-fare entrée.
Assuming you happen to have room for dessert, which is a big if, given DeSantis' generous portion sizes, you can always settle down for a bite or two of cannoli, or perhaps some New York-style cheesecake. Even if you don't have room for dessert, I am sure that you won't leave DeSantis' unhappy.