Highlight: It could have been worse
Lowlight: We paid way too much for what we got
Veggie Note: There's not a very diverse selection of vegetarian options here, and the default seems to lean towards meaty everything.
This restaurant was recommended to us by several people as a great spot to get some home-cooking style Italian food.
Cantone's is a southern Italian style restaurant off the main drag in the Colonial Park area of Harrisburg. It was actually a little nicer and more comfortable in the dining room than we had anticipated, having come from the land of good, cheap Italian restaurants that tend to skimp on their interior design efforts. We were asked if we had reservations, which we did not, but that didn't prevent us from being seated right away (we just ended up way in the back). There is a bar here, and they had a pretty nice selection of beers on tap (more than just the many varieties of Bud, which all taste like dirty dish water to me). The menu was swimming with super-meaty dishes, which is no surprise considering it's southern Italian style. There were three meatless dishes and then a build your own pasta section.
We had the following:
- Bread Basket - after ordering our entrees we received a basket of warm Italian bread, crusty on the outside and soft in the center. It was pretty good.
- Eggplant Parmigiana - comes with a choice of Marinara or Mrs. C's sauce. Mrs. C's sauce is their meat sauce, so obviously I went with the Marinara. Too bad though. It was definitely missing the love that I bet Mrs. C's sauce has in it. It was about as exciting as a jar of Ragu. The fried eggplant slices were okay, they probably were freshly cut and breaded, but there was nothing about them that couldn't have been reproduced from frozen eggplant out of a box. The dish also comes with some spaghetti. It was cooked al dente, but was also pretty boring. I ate about half of this dish and really struggled to decide if I wanted to bother taking the rest home. It didn't take me long to remember that this dish cost me $15 and I darn well better get my money's worth, so I took the rest home to eat later with hopes it would be better the second time around (I ended up eating it for breakfast, being able to be lazy and just reheat leftovers added something to this dish, but not much).
- Penne Spinaca - This dish was definitely more interesting than the eggplant. The spinach was fresh, not frozen. The sun dried tomatoes may have been a bit too populous, but you can eat around them. It was plenty garlicky and nice. There was nothing special about this pasta either. It definitely looked fancier on the plate than the eggplant did, and it smelled better too.
- Side Salad - both entrees came with a side salad (Ceaser salad costs $2 extra, not that we would order one due to anchovies usually being in the dressing, but jeez, that's a pretty steep extra fee for something like that). It was just a salad. I opted for the homemade bleu cheese dressing, even though it came wiht an extra 75 cent price tag. It was not worth tacking that extra cost onto the bill. I definitely couldn't tell it was homemade and not mass-produced.
I have had good home-style Italian cooking, at home and in restaurants before. There was nothing particularly wrong with the food here, but it wasn't extra-super special, even though the prices said otherwise. $15 for spaghetti noodles, plain marinara sauce, and some breaded eggplant is astounding. I can get three whole pounds of plain old pasta (with meat) from Pizza Hut for $12.99 (not that I ever would) and that also comes with bread. So what was I paying for here? There was definitely a nice family atmosphere, lots of folks talking, having fun, enjoying a meal together. That's great I guess. And maybe they are really knocking it out of the park with their meat dishes, but those all came priced at $20 or higher.
There was also a vegetarian baked capponatta on the menu. I considered ordering this but I just wasn't in the mood for it's Burgundy Wine Marinara sauce, it seemed to heavy for me by it's description. The build your own pasta section is essentially choose your pasta and choose your sauce for $12-15. Pretty steep again for noodles and sauce. Want to add some veggies? That'll cost you $1 per vegetable (only broccoli and spinach are offered).
You might be able to order some of their other pasta specialties without the meat (there was a lot of ham in many of these dishes) but I would not count on getting a price reduction considering how many you get nickel and dimed to death with "additional costs" for almost everything else.
We had a friend with us who ended not ordering anything at all. Part of that can be attributed to having eaten a ton of rice about an hour earlier at a picnic, but part of that also comes from it just not being worth the money to get what was being offered, and that nothing really jumped off the menu as a spectacular find.
Final Thoughts: There's something about this place that makes people love it, but I don't know what it is. Meat maybe? Atmosphere possibly? I guarantee you it's not the fabulous deals and the great vegetarian dishes, bummer. I doubt we'll be back here.