313 S. High St., (443) 835-4866, joebennys.com
It used to be a minor tradition in our family to attend Little Italy’s Cinema al Fresco on Friday nights in the summer. We revived the tradition a few weeks ago to go see “Rocky”—the parents drove in from the suburbs and we strolled down from Mount Vernon to Little Italy, where the folks picked up a few pizzas from Joe Benny’s Focacceria, which has been open for about four months. But these weren’t crispy-crusted pizzas: These were focaccias, with cheese and toppings baked on the flat, fluffy bread. One was the special of the day, the pancetta ($13), topped with goat cheese, caramelized onions, pancetta, and arugula. The cheese, onions, and focaccia bread made it unusually sweet for a pizza, but the arugula tempered the sweetness enough to keep it from tasting like a dessert pie. The fiore ($12)—which had meatballs, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, and had apparently come highly recommended from a cop standing outside the restaurant—just tasted like an open-faced meatball sub, albeit one with excellent meatballs.
After stealing pieces of the parents' pizzas, we decided we should go and get our own, so we strolled down to Joe Benny’s. It’s in a skinny, long space, with the pizza oven by the bar/takeout counter in the front and sit-down dining service toward the back. We slid onto a stool by the dark wood bar and scrutinized the daily specials listed on the chalkboard on the wall before deciding to get the artichoke ($12) focaccia from the regular menu.
The artichoke focaccia had marinated artichoke hearts, red onion, and fontina cheese, and tasted like it was in desperate need of another topping to give it more flavor. But it was still a decent dinner to eat while sitting in a Little Italy parking lot, waiting for a movie to start.