Marcello’s makes a comeback with classy yet forward-thinking dishes

It’s surprising that I have no recollection of dining at Marcello’s former iteration in Baton Rouge other than that it occurred and, ironically, in the same location. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the Marcello’s in New Orleans, so I was looking forward to having that option much closer to home again when the restaurant reopened here in July 2018.

A preeminent feature of the St. Charles Avenue outpost are the racks of wine throughout the dining room. These are filled with varietals of all price points but sold at retail prices. As most restaurants’ wine markups are three to four times retail, this is a budget-minded oenophile’s dream. It’s also a big part of the Baton Rouge location, allowing diners to browse for the perfect bottle while waiting for a table. If owner Gene Todaro is in, he can expertly guide you to the best option for your table and wallet.

Once seated, we wanted to indulge in several appetizers. The first to catch my eye was Raviolo with a mix of oxtail, ricotta, crab fat and nduja cream—a spicy, spreadable salumi—along with marinated tomato, arugula and speck powder. Perfectly al dente pasta encapsulated the ideal portion of filling. The ample, rich sauce had a hint of peppery spice. One Raviolo order was plenty for all four of us to get a satisfying bite.

The Beet Salad includes a colorful array of beets, apples and fennel topped with tangy blue cheese and pesto.

I love artichokes with all of their charms, and the Long-Stemmed Artichokes were a stupendous oven-roasted variety served with charred tomatoes, ricotta and a black squid-ink lavash bread. Equally earthy and acidic, the artichokes were elevated by pungent sprinklings of bottarga, a cured fish roe, that conveyed flavors of the sea. The artichokes were all topped by a light sauce with a mild sweetness that married well with the aromatic fish flakes.

Two medium meatballs were included in the Meatballs and Rustica starter. They were soft, tender and simply seasoned with a fresh-flavored, slow-cooked tomato sauce that had just enough sugar to tame the tomato acid. Half the table felt it was the best of the appetizers while the other half was divided between the Raviolo and the artichokes. My vote went for the charismatic artichokes.

My partner and I are big fans of beets, and Marcello’s Beet Salad includes a colorful array and tangy blue cheese. Dollops of pesto scattered throughout were a lovely, flavorful surprise. Even better: The dish was very lightly dressed.

The Caesar Salad made anchovy the star of the dish—as it should be. The lettuce was crisp and fresh, all sprinkled with a perfect complement of cheese and the interesting addition of fried parsnips.

Fresh fish of the day is the star of the Pesce Fresco—a crispy skin salmon filet on our visit. But the parsley-cashew gremolata and roasted potatoes add delightful textures and flavors.

Marsala pork cheeks are one of my partner’s favorites and they always get ordered when we visit the New Orleans location. Expecting the same here, we had an initial shock that soon gave way to joy over the Pork Cheek Stracci featuring braised cheeks, a pea pesto and a poached egg over pasta. It was surprisingly delicate, with a pale brown sauce covering torn noodles, green peas and sugar snap peas. We thought it just might beat out the Marsala version.

My Pesce Fresco was sprinkled with a salty parsley-cashew gremolata that exploded with flavor. The fresh fish was flakey with a crisp skin that added textural interest. Accompanied by roasted potatoes, the entire serving was befitting a light to medium appetite.

There is good reason the Veal Molli entree is so popular. Similar dishes are often inundated by a heavy butter sauce. This chef used a nimble hand with a subtle lemon butter sauce that complemented the tender veal cutlets. It was superb.

Desserts ran the Italian gamut with some true whammies of delight. The Tiramisu was quite airy with impressive layers of mascarpone and ladyfingers and a dainty whisper of espresso.

The Cannoli featured the same sweetened mascarpone as the Tiramisu, though it wasn’t exactly the dessert contrast I was hoping for. However, mini semisweet chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts added enough textural diversity. Thankfully the cream filling was not granular like most, and the shell was fresh and super crunchy.

The Veal Molli entree is served with sauteed artichokes, linguini aglio and a light lemon butter sauce.

Stars of the dessert menu, in my opinion, were the creative gelato choices of lavender and green peppercorns, olive oil with cherry and balsamic drizzle, and sweet corn topped with mushroom caramel. Savory, earthy and mildly sweet best describes the unique mushroom caramel. Everyone but me found the corn flavor overwhelming. I found it a savory delight.

Olive oil gelato offered bold, tart, dark flavors and a unique texture. Lavender lacked the soapy quality that plagues similar desserts, but the peppercorns were lost. While I was tempted by the foie gras gelato, my companions thought it might be overkill.   

At the bar, I heard the owner extolling the skills of the chef making all components from scratch and pushing the envelope just enough to astound without alienating. Our table concurred.The experience was stellar and the food and atmosphere are both reasons to visit. The wine and gelato alone will draw me back.

THE BASICS: Marcello’s returned to Baton Rouge in July 2018 after a six-year hiatus. Since the doors reopened, young chef Kevin Anderson has been providing intriguing takes on Italian classics with unique ingredients. The restaurant is known for its extensive wine selection, which takes center stage in the entrance and at the bar.

WHAT’S A MUST: Indulge in starters like the Raviolo stuffed with oxtail and crab fat or the colorful and lively Beet Salad. For entrees, go for the Veal Molli in a light lemon butter sauce over linguini. And don’t pass up the changing lineup of gelatos for dessert, with interesting flavors like mushroom caramel and even foie gras.

Eat at Marcello’s
4205 Perkins Road

Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 4-10 p.m.
Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Closed Sundays

Our food critic’s name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years.

This article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.