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Playing is safe

Purdy Italian joint packs them in

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Massimo Italian Bar and Grill

Where: 13802 Purdy Dr, N.W., Gig Harbor, 253.514.6237, Web site

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to closing daily, happy hour 3:30-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Scene: Large, three-room restaurant that looks like a beach house serving all walks of life.

Menu: Southern Italian with handmade crust pizzas, traditional pasta dishes and heavy on the poultry and veal.

Drinkies: Worthy, with a nice wine list and creative cocktails.

ANNOUNCER: Since the boys’ first trip to the small Gig Harbor Italian joint Terracciano Ristorante Italiano well over three years ago, they’ve had a number of enjoyable meals there. And still, each and every one of them seemed to fall slightly short of their expectations. Well, on a good night there were aspects of dining at Terracciano that were near-great, more often than not due to their wonderful wine list.

A month ago owners Cindy and Massimo Terracciano moved to larger digs, the vacant spot in Purdy that once housed Pearl’s by the Sea and most recently the Naccarato brothers’ Beach House, which later morphed into the Margarita Beach Café. They dropped the last name of their new Italian joint titling it Massimo Italian Bar and Grill; it’s much larger and has a full bar.

JAKE: What’s next? A giant Italian buffet box with his middle name in lights?

JASON: If so, I pray it’s easier to navigate. Miss the exit and off to Port Orchard you go. Hit the exit off Highway 16, then it’s Russian Roulette with busy Purdy Bridge traffic and interesting, if not scary, entrance options.

JAKE: Purdy doesn’t seem to care. While lunches were empty on two visits, my dinner visits required a waiting in the small lobby. A full bar prevented me from mingling with the sweat pants, NFL jerseys, leisure jackets and high-end boutique purchases.

JASON: Exactly. It’s almost as if no other dining option exists in Purdy. Everyone and their mother shell out $10 to $20 an entrée for a night out. The bar, with its fancy, well-executed cocktails, packs them during the daylight, too.

JAKE: What’s wrong with us? Do we expect too much? The food tastes good, but not great. I can get lost in the water view. The open fireplace warms and soothes. I guess it’s just that the food’s not quite there for me – especially for a trip to Purdy.

JASON: I believe it could be warmer inside. The pale brown paint does nothing for me. I’m not a huge fan of the televisions either. They’re everywhere, even three or four in the reflection off the windows. One night I sat four feet from a high-definition widescreen. I couldn’t help but be transfixed on the World Series of Poker. I felt like a zombie.

JAKE: I recently ate dinner at the celebrated Whistler restaurant Quattro, where everything was perfect. From the moment we were greeted by the restaurant’s host and hostess to the last nibble of petit four from our front row view of the snow outside, there was virtually nothing I could think of to improve upon — literally.

JASON: Um, what’s your point? How can you compare?

JAKE: It might seem unfair to compare a restaurant like Massimo with one such as Quattro. The prices are staggering at Quattro. Wine Spectator dubs it worthy. Quattro knows its place in the world — and provides an unforgettable dining experience. Massimo — I’m not sure of their place. It’s not a quaint, Italian joint. It’s not a family-friendly restaurant. It’s not a fine dining experience. Cripes, it’s not really a sports bar either. Yet, it has elements of all four. Maybe that’s exactly what Purdy desires.

JASON: Judging from its dinner crowd, I’d say so.

JAKE: Table service at Massimo is a mixed bag; the daytime shift forgot water, side plates, ingredients, and didn’t push dessert. If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a very professional woman named Robin for your server. She knew the wine list forward and back.

JASON: Whoever's in charge of the bruschetta pomodoro needs an art lesson. Five slices of wonderful Italian bread were lightly grilled (the name comes from bruscare: to toast), coated with olive oil and topped with a small ration of diced tomatoes with basil and lots and lots of garlic. It looked thrown together. In addition I had to brush my teeth five times to remove the garlic taste.

The judicious use of salt was the driving force behind a more favorable starter: the calamari fritti, squid encased in a golden shell of batter that was light but still made for crunchy munching. The calamari brought the added bonus of a creamy, caper-studded aioli.

JASON: Skip the calamari steak. The thick rubbery calamari never grasped onto the sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and spinach sauce. I found it difficult to keep the two together.

JAKE: I direct you to the veal scaloppini in a wild mushroom-Gorgonzola cream sauce. It’s a big plate of tender veal bathed in an ultra-silky sauce starring heavy cream, butter, and Gorgonzola. My wife, a stickler when it comes to cheesy sauces, declared this one the best she’s ever had, and I had to second the motion. The cheese, cream and butter were perfectly balanced.

JASON: From the list of pasta plates, gnocchi della casa, house-made potato perfectly pillowy parcels served with a tasty roma tomato sauce. The cannelloni di carne was so-so: pasta envelopes stuffed with ground beef, ricotta and parmesan cheese and spinach needed the ground pepper that was never offered. Poultry and veal dominate the entrees, with traditional chicken piccata carrying a primo tangy note.

JAKE: A 36-bottle wine list will win over even the most cultured oenophile. I might venture back for the big game if a bottle of the Barolo Franco Molino 2003 is popped. Even the $8 glass of Powers Cabernet does the trick.

JASON: The tiramisu looked like something you'd throw in someone's face at a carnival. Although it carried a nice sweetness, the blob of mascarpone cheese was missing that spiked taste — although rum sits on the menu as an ingredient. And the powdered cocoa on top made me cough with every bite.

JAKE: And yet, gulp, it works if your expectations aren’t a mile high, that must-see is on the tube and you like tasty drinks. Just make sure you don’t miss the exit.


Bruschetta Pomodoro >>> $4.50
Tiramisu >>> $6
Panino di Prosciutto >>> $6
Insalata Gamberetti >>> $6.25
Calamari Fritti >>> $7.50
Gnocchi della Casa >>> $10.95
Quattro Stagioni pizza >>> $11.95
Cannelloni Di Carne >>> $12.95
Grilled Halibut >>> $16.95
Scalloppine Gorgonzola >>> $17.95

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