Dolce Restaurant: "Restaurant it supposed to be; restaurant it is"
"Restaurant it supposed to be; restaurant it is"
By Jennifer LB Leese
Dolce, a restaurant with European-Romanian dishes on their extensive menu, sits in the middle of Frederick Street in Hagerstown. The russet and sandy brown one-level cinder block building doesn't reflect what awaits you inside.
Once you enter, you are immediately wrapped in the owner, Iuliana Manea's, warmth and friendly smiles. "Come in. Come in. Sit. Eat," she says.
Iuliana, also referred to as Julia, dresses in all white from the tip of her sneakers to the top of her dazzling chef's hat. Her upbeat, welcoming, and cheerful qualities are contagious. You can't help but feel what she's giving out.
Iuliana told me that she is from a town called Vaslui in northeastern Romania. The history of this town and its surrounding areas is tragic and has left a formidable impact on the city. A decline in quality of life occurred after the downfall of the Communism in 1989. People there are still suffering. "We are poor," Iuliana said. She went on to tell me that she grew up on a farm where they grew their own vegetables and milked their own cows. "We have no shops where we can go to like you have here," she said. "The dishes on the menu is food "that I see from my mother home.
"I was born with stuffed cabbage in my eyes...even moussaka." This is originally Greek with the three-layer variety stemming from Romania. Iuliana tells me there isn't much of a difference in the varities. The Romanian version uses potatoes instead of aubergines (eggplant), pork mince with the top layer covered with yogurt mixed with raw eggs and a couple of spoons of flour. "In my city the meat is cooked and we add lots of vegetables...you can find this in much of our food," she said.
Iuliana came to New York City The Bronx in 1997. After meeting Adrian from Rocky's New York Pizza in Smithsburg, she came to Hagerstown in 2001 by his invite. "Hagerstown reminded me of my city in Romania," Iuliana said. "So I stay." Iuliana's family remained in Romania. "I missed my children...the family...it was very hard for me to decide to remain, but I have a future here." She worked for Adrian for 7 years before shopping around for a place to open her own restaurant. Dolce Restaurant opened in April 2007. The name Dolce was not taken lightly. "I want name to be my mirror," she said. "Dolce is not sweet stuff. It is nice personality...nice characteristic...making your mirror."
Iuliana has proof that a restaurant stood in that same spot during the 1940s. "I have picture," she said. "Restaurant it supposed to be; restaurant it is." A huge smile covered her face as the thought of her giving the building exactly what she felt it wanted.
Iuliana is cook, waitress, and greeter, and she enjoys every minute of it.
European-Romanian foods are the highlight of her menu, however, Italian dishes are included to complete the selection. A few of them include chicken cacciatore (Romanian-style), homemade lasagna, baked ziti, raviolis, stuffed veal and, of course, spaghetti. European dinners include moussaka, beans with smoked ham, and Moldavian chicken. Also served are seafood dishes such as grilled haddock and breaded shrimp, grilled foods such as pork center cut and sirloin steak, cold and hot subs, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas and side dishes such as French fries and onion rings.
After our interview, I took notes, as Iuliana made me dinner. I took a moment to look around the small space - cream, red, and blue checkered linoleum floor, mustard colored walls, mismatched chairs and table clothes and plastic flowers on the tables. Not fancy. But who wants fancy when the food is this good? The delicious mouthwatering food and Iuliana are the restaurant's main attractions.
The one room restaurant, with the kitchen visible to all, seated roughly 35 people. Small and quaint were the first words that ran through my mind. Her husband busied himself beside the oven. Those who entered as I waited were greeted with a jovial hello from behind the counter.
Not more than five minutes passed when I heard a melodic energetic display of Romanian language roll out from the kitchen, as Iuliana, her husband, and her son, Alex, were deep in conversation. I continued writing my notes when the conversation turned into someone humming. I looked up and Iuliana smiled as she slapped dough from palm to palm. "Making you dinner," she said. A few moments later she brought over a warm round homemade roll with a dab of butter on a small plate. She grinned and seemed to dance back to the kitchen. Cooking is definitely something Iuliana was born to do. "I was made for this," she told me.
A few minutes later she brought out a bag stuffed with delicious smelling foods. "Do you have children?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered.
She tapped my arm. "I go make you doughnuts." And she dashed off into the kitchen again.
Later as I prepared the dishes Iuliana made for us, I was thrilled to see stuffed cabbage, moussaka, and fresh homemade bread.
The stuffed cabbage was filled with ground beef and rice. The moussaka was sliced potatoes, ground beef covered with tomato sauce. The rolls were tasty and excellent reheated.
Dollar for dollar, Dolce Restaurant is a great value for families - that's hard to beat. Visit Iuliana's place, and let her take care of you. "I love doing something so people remember me," she said. As a customer, I can tell you that she does a lot.
Dolce Restaurant is located at 792 Frederick St., Hagerstown. They are open from 10am to 10pm Monday through Saturday; 5 to 9:30pm Sunday. Call ahead if you can't "Come in" and "Sit" and "Eat" at 301-745-6300 or 301-745-6301. Although, trust me, you'll be missing some excellent company.