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Chicken cacciatore is one of the many dishes offered at Marcello's in Middlesex Township.

Like so many others, I’ve been making a conscientious effort to cut back on carbs these days. But if you can’t splurge on your birthday, when can you?

Last week, I made it a point to bank a few calories to indulge in a pasta feast at Marcello’s, a BYOB I’ve heard about but never tried.

Located a bit off the beaten path at 900 Cavalry Road, North Middleton Township, Marcello’s takes up the better part of a medium-sized strip mall, and its sizable lot makes finding a convenient parking spot simple. When we failed to see an employee immediately on entering, we spent a few minutes pondering over the proper procedure. Do we seat ourselves, or wait?

In the front room, we noticed a case located just a few steps away from the entrance, with several pizzas on display. Nearby booths seemed to be strategically placed for those waiting for take-out. Adjacent dining rooms provided additional seating, and we were tempted to wander around until a waitress emerged from the kitchen and shouted out a hearty greeting. She guided us to a table in the more formally decorated room with soaring pillars and elegant window treatments, and it soon became evident that Marcello’s straddles the world between pizzeria and upscale casual dining.

As we perused our menus, I noticed a steady parade of customers entering the front room and exiting shortly thereafter, their arms piled high with pizzas.

There’s more to Marcello’s than burgers, subs and pizza, however. Appetizers include items like shrimp cocktail, steamed clams with garlic and white wine, and mussels marinara. A baked pasta section lists items like ravioli, lasagna and stuffed shells. Seafood creations include shrimp scampi, lobster ravioli and scallops. Chicken dishes run the gamut from marsala, to alfredo, to parmigiana and scaloppine.

Had I preferred to go the low-carb route, I could have chosen items from the low-carb section, which touts at least a dozen salads and wraps. There’s even a children’s menu for customers with little ones in tow, with items like chicken fingers, pizza, spaghetti and ravioli, all for less than $6.

The staff is friendly at Marcello’s, so I felt free to share the fact that it just happened to be my birthday and, as such, I was ordering one of my favorite celebratory dinners — cheese ravioli with meat sauce ($12.67). For years, it was a family tradition, an indulgence provided by my Italian grandmother who started out making the ravioli a tad on the small side. Those little pillows slowly morphed into big ones as she grew older and less enthusiastic about making them, but my enthusiasm never waned, no matter what size they were.

My dining partner decided to give the chicken cacciatore a try ($16.99). As we each relaxed with a glass of wine poured from the bottle we carted along, our waitress brought us warm garlic bread, followed by my choice of a garden salad and his preference for a cup of creamy bacon potato soup.

As the dining room began to fill up during the dinner hour, it wasn’t lost on us that the employees had little problem keeping pace with the entrees. Ours arrived just about the time we were finishing our starters, and they didn’t disappoint.

My piping hot ravioli was tender and delicious and above all cheesy — extra cheesy. Might I even say birthday celebration cheesy? The rich, savory, meaty sauce topped with a chiffonade of basil was spiced just right, with sweetness provided by tomatoes alone and garlic that complemented, rather than overwhelmed.

My partner’s dish was flavorful as well, made with large split, pounded chicken breast, fresh roasted cherry tomatoes, red onions, green peppers and mushrooms, smothered in Marcello’s signature marinara sauce.

As we prepared to leave, I was surprised by a small band of employees marching out of the kitchen with cannoli in which they had inserted a candle. Little did I know that the entire room was going to join them in a “Happy Birthday” serenade, which definitely put a huge smile on my face.

The cannoli ended up being icing on the cake as they say, with a lovely cinnamon flavor and a not-too-sweet filling. I managed to get one bite before the other half of my party swooped in and, just like that, dessert was gone in a flash.

As we made our exit, I spotted an Italian blessing stenciled on the wall that read, “May your life be like good wine, tasty sharp and clear, and like good wine may it improve, with every passing year,” which seemed like a fine ending to a delicious birthday meal.

Up Next: Lunch at the Grazery in Carlisle


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