Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Benito’s offers a different dining experience

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Chef Edgar Mendoza displays two of the popular menu items at Benito’s Brick Oven Italiano in Bowie: Cannelloni with fresh spinach, ricotta cheese and chicken and a meat lover’s pizza.
When you step into Benito’s, one of the first things you’ll notice is the building’s fine craftsmanship.

This is not your average shopping plaza eatery. Owner Kevin Kennedy works in medical collections by day, while his partner, Von Davenport is in the restaurant.

Check out the antique windows that give a view from the dining room to the bar⁄waiting area. Davenport took his time to find these and other treasures like the wooden sliding doors that separate the main dining area from a front area, which can be used for private parties.

A friend of Kennedy’s added stained glass to the doors, so, if they’re open when you go, ask if you can take a peek. The booths are made from walnut, and Davenport took special care with the ceiling. The pair even made the tables themselves.

That attention to detail and DIY spirit also applies to the menu. Like the restaurant’s interior, meals are carefully crafted.

‘‘We use fresh ingredients,” Kennedy said.

The food at Benito’s is plated and presented with care. The staff is pleasant and willing to accommodate.

‘‘The menu is a guide,” Kennedy said. ‘‘We can make what you want.”

While Davenport has construction experience, Kennedy spent his evenings and vacations helping friends in the restaurant business, creating his own course in restaurant management.

For Pam and Don Depas of Glenn Dale, Benito’s is a very welcome addition to the area.

‘‘We’ve been looking for a good pizza place since the Railroad Inn closed. This is the first place we’ve seen that has unique pizza,” Pam Depas said.

If you like your pizza crust not too thick, not too thin, then you’ll find the pizza at Benito’s is just right. Dine in and watch your pie go into the brick oven or choose carry-out. You can build your own pizza ($7.95-$11.95) with toppings like pepperoni, prosciutto, artichokes, sausage or feta cheese. There are also pizzas like the Margharita (mozzarella and basil), Pizza Cosmopolitan (beef, onion, jalapeño and cheddar) and a Pizza alla Florentine (Alfredo sauce, chicken, spinach) to tempt you away from the standard pepperoni and cheese.

Fans of eggplant parmagiana should try the Melazane Paragiana ($10.95-$13.95). The layers stand firm rather than falling apart.

If you have room for dessert, get the tiramisu ($5.95), which is made with a homemade custard crème.

Don Depas was pleasantly surprised to find Tortellini alla Panna ($9.50-$13.95) on the menu. This is a dish he has been looking for in restaurants all over the country since trying it in Italy. It has tortellini filled with meat and cheese served in a cream sauce with mushrooms and ham.

In addition to providing the flavors of Italy, Kennedy also wants to bring back some old-school restaurant flavor. Kennedy grew up in Montgomery County, but has lived in Prince George’s County for 27 years. His time in Prince George’s includes working as the postmaster in Glenn Dale. He remembers when restaurants like Hot Shoppes draped tablecloths over the tables at night, a practice he follows at Benito’s to lend more ambience to evening dining.