Scampi are ubiquitous. Great scampi are not. So it's rewarding to run across them -- particularly in an unlikely spot like Maceo's, where the sounds of such prehistoric ditties as "O, My Papa" and "That's Amore" (sung by Dean Martin) don't lead one to expect much in the way of culinary thrills. But this time-warpy westside newcomer run by Galveston native Rose Maceo Jr. (as in the Maceos who came to prominence in the wild-and-woolly Balinese Room era) has more than Westheimer-Art-Festival-caliber paintings up its old-fashioned sleeve.
Maceo's scampi are blessed with an exhilarating butter sauce that fairly dances with lemon and garlic. Nary a trace of iodine mars the firm, sweet shrimp, which come with their tails attached. You eat your allotted half dozen, then wish there were more. Disconsolately, you poke at the pile of sauteed vegetables left on your plate. Surprise again: they are fabulous. Tangy and just on the friendly side of al dente, these colorful batons have spent quality time with red onion and ripe tomato. Unlike most restaurant vegetables, they demand to be consumed in their entirety.
Even a small plateful of fettucine alfredo that emerges from the kitchen wearing a warming-lamp skin turns out to be terrific-tasting, clad in an elemental, splendidly grainy cling of emphatic parmesan, butter and cream. What a relief to encounter a minimalist alfredo in an age besotted by creamy goo.
Not everything at Maceo's is so heartening. Breadcrumbed Clams Maceo, bedded down on rock salt, are as dry as sand on the shore. A tender chicken breast rolled around a richly ambitious mix of spinach, ricotta, golden raisins and walnuts leaps into the excessive zone once its thickish, mellow marsala sauce is factored in. Interesting try, but too rich even for my baroque blood. Among the desserts, a cannoli filled with strawberry-flavored ricotta is very pink and
The scampi, though, are reason enough to seek out this restaurant, which proudly bills itself as serving "recognizable" Italian food. (Translation: no arugula.) It is well for those contemplating a visit to have a tolerance for Italian accordion music and Perry Como, but only a Scrooge could fail to be charmed by the personable, bearded owner, by the color-saturated marine mural that turns the smoking section into a surreal stage set and by the prospect of returning for an obscure specialty much prized in Baton Rouge, but outside Maceo's unavailable in these parts -- fried rice balls held together by molten mozzarella.
-- Alison Cook
Maceo's, 2022 Wilcrest, 952-9220.
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