I had heard about Dolce, the teeny-tiny restaurant on Frederick Street in Hagerstown, from several friends, but had never been there. I asked my friend, Pap Ricka, if he wanted to go with me to see if it lived up to its reputation.
Dolce’s full name is Dolce Pizza Gourmet and Eastern European Restaurant. While I am as big a fan of pizza as anyone else, I was more intrigued by the Eastern European offerings. Dolce means “sweet” in Italian, but is also a town in the Czech Republic.
We entered the restaurant and were invited to sit anywhere we wanted. The place has probably no more than 10 tables along the front of the room. The back section is the open kitchen, and we could see and hear staff chatting to one another as they prepared the food.
Julia, the manager/chef, shouted out a “hello!” to us as we took our seats. Our waitress brought over two rolls for us. The knots of dough were hard outside and soft inside. They had a curious bland, saltless flavor that somehow was delicious.
The menu at Dolce is huge. There are sandwiches, cold subs and hot subs, many with a European flair, like the gyro and the cappicola sub. There are salads and soups. There were grilled dishes like pork chops and Wiener schnitzel, and shrimp and salmon under the seafood category. There were calzones and stromboli.
And, of course, there was pizza. Along with the expected varieties, there was “Franco’s Pizza,” a white pizza with shrimp, garlic, alfredo sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. The “Country Pizza” had ground beef, bacon, sausage, hot peppers and cheese. Most impressive was the “Vegetarian Pizza,” which had mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, green and red peppers, banana peppers, zucchini, eggplant and three kinds of cheese. Now that’s a meal.
But I was more interested in what was listed under “Italian dinners” and “European dinners.” The Italian dinners included all varieties of spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli and lasagna. Chicken cacciatore with peppers, onion and olives in a red wine and marinara sauce, and chicken marsala with mushrooms came with a side order of pasta, salad and rolls.
I focused on the European dinners. The “Julia Stuffed Cabbage” sounded great with ground beef, rice, tomatoes, parsley and dill, with sour cream on the side. And I really wanted to try the “Tochitura Moldoveneasca,” which is pork loin, liver, eggs, feta and smoked sausage served with polenta.
Pap decided on the stuffed veal with meat sauce from the Italian dinners, and I picked the moussake from the European dinners.
Our meals came with salads and either rolls or garlic bread. We chose more of the rolls. When our salads came, we were amazed by the size. Practically meals in themselves, the salads included lettuce, red onions, yellow and red peppers, chunks of carrots and cucumbers (cut in small, manageable bites), and tiny, crispy croutons and were covered with wide strands of grated mozzarella cheese. I selected the house dressing, a balsamic with a deep almost coffee-like flavor. Pap’s dressing was a golden Italian. Both were delicious.
Our meals also were huge. Pap’s veal dish covered half the plate. A heap of spaghetti covered the remaining half. The veal was stacked with thin slices of ham and eggplant and some light breading. The entire lot was covered in a tomato-meat sauce and thick melted cheese.
He plowed in, giving me dirty looks when I nibbled on the extra-crispy edges. He protested my exploring, but I told him it was necessary so I could describe the dish to our readers.
It was fantastic. He loved the spaghetti, too, finding the sauce, with chunks of tomato, to be extraordinary.
My moussake was a new experience. When I have eaten moussake in the past, it was made with eggplant. This one had layers of potatoes instead, with ground beef in between and covered in a chunky tomato sauce. While I love eggplant, this version of moussake was great. The potatoes were soft but not mushy, the ground beef was flavorful and the tomato sauce bound the whole thing together. It was another winner.
Despite the fact that he cleaned his enormous plate, Pap decided to order dessert for us to take home. He got one piece of cheesecake and one chocolate cannoli.
Our waitress looked a bit puzzled at our request for dessert, and we soon found out why. After clearing our dishes, she brought over a plate of squiggles of dough covered in powdered sugar. Apparently this concludes every meal at Dolce, which is why we didn’t need dessert.
When I asked our waitress the name of the dish, she said it was called doughnuts. She said the same dough is used in the rolls, the pizza dough and the doughnuts. It is a versatile and delicious recipe.
We ate every bite and had to save the other desserts for the following night. The cheesecake was dense and topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. The cannoli was covered with a chocolate coating before being rolled up around the cheesy middle. Both were great, even a day later.
Dolce not only lived up to our expectations, it exceeded them. Everyone shouted “thank you!” as we left, feeling full and happy and looking forward to coming back.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.