It was already a bit dark by the time we pulled in to the nearly full, gravel parking lot of Birroteca, an Italian restaurant — I think it might technically go by “pizzeria,” but I’ve forgotten — resting in the luxuriant shade of I-83 as it goes over Jones Falls.
The restaurant is technically within walking distance, just short of the trip to Druid Hill Park. Realistically, though, it makes the most sense to Uber, unless you’re trying to get your steps in.
About a week ago, I went with several other Hopkins students for an event through the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund, which works very closely with the Hopkins film program. As such, I can’t say it was a normal meal, but the place did leave a lasting impression.
A banner strung across the road approaching the place reminds all comers that the mill district they have entered is “historic” and not simply “old.” Even though the vines that have overtaken the area’s chain link fences may state a case to the contrary, I think that when it comes to Birroteca, the banner gets it right.
The building, a mill in a previous life, is spacious, comfortably fitting a wraparound bar and quite a bit of seating on the first floor. The aesthetic staples of restaurants born from mills are all present and accounted for: Hardwood floors, exposed stone and brick walls, and fuzzy tungsten light each do their bit in giving the place a post-industrial coziness, if that term isn’t too pretentious to still make sense.
It looks quite nice together and has the welcome effect of shrinking a large space to a more personal scale. A single table, visually, has privacy.
But only visually. The drawback of combining wood and stone and brick and dishes and human beings and other human beings is it makes a lot of noise. Every sound bounces.
When a space is full, conversations even with those near you can become difficult. A friend sitting just across the table from me repeated something three times before I could make out her saying, “Never mind. It wasn’t important.” I didn’t notice any background music playing, which was merciful.
Seeing as I was there for an event that featured an open bar and a buffet, I am limited in what I can say about the dining experience. I didn’t have a menu, a waiter or a bill, which to my mind are the three most important aspects of any meal and topics I am not equipped to discuss in much detail. I did, however, have the food.
First, as one might expect, they brought out appetizers, which followed a certain pattern. Most were on thin slices of baguette. Some were topped with prosciutto, lettuce and sprinkled cheese. Some had mushrooms, sweet peppers and a drizzling of vinaigrette or some other such dressing. All were quite good, the roasted brussels sprouts especially.
They brought out pizzas, the kind that would probably be referred to as “artisanal” by those who like to annoy other people. But they earned the designation.
The dessert didn’t quite knock my socks off, but then again, I take cannoli more seriously than I should.
All in all, I had a very positive experience at Birroteca. The atmosphere, while not exactly soundproof, was pleasant and struck a good balance between rustic and modern.
And while I can’t speak to the menu directly, the food was good and more or less justifies the prices listed online, which are steep for college students. But as a place to visit infrequently, especially with friends, it’s very well suited.