Carmines at Candleworks, New Bedford

You could have a delicious, fancy dinner at Carmines, including a glass of an interesting Italian wine, for less than twenty bucks a person. You could easily enjoy the lovely rustic ambience, the Rat Pack soundtrack, and the pleasantly formal service for far less than what you’d expect. There are six-ounce pours of each wine by the glass, hearty appetizers, salads with proteins, sandwiches, and pizzas, any of which would make for an awesome special occasion dinner. The trick is to not let the $39 filet mignon freak you out.

Gina and the Big Dog took a broader approach for research purposes, choosing instead to try several appetizers and entrees. Our splurge was thanks to Big Dog Jr. and the Lovely Jen, who got us a gift card for Christmas.

The Big Dog started with the Zuppa Toscana ($5.99). The creamy broth was thick and loaded with Italian sausage, kale, and potatoes.

Gina ordered rolled eggplant ($12.99). Three slices of thin, breaded eggplant were rolled around spinach and ricotta, and topped with tomato sauce and parmesan. It was hearty, delicious, and beautiful. If you’re doing the under-20-bucks thing, this is a good choice, especially for vegetarians. (Who, by the way, are well accommodated here, and numerous dishes are or can be prepared in a gluten-free manner, including the pizzas.) We hadn’t even ordered entrees yet, and our efficient bartender, Rebecca, was already bringing us a box for one of the eggplant rolls.

Along with the appetizers, we selected from an extensive menu of mostly Italian wines, with many choices available in six-ounce or nine-ounce pours, and prices for a glass ranging from $6.50 for American favorites to $15 for something special. Gina ordered a Barbera d’Asti and the Big Dog chose a fine Italian syrah. We savored these while reviewing the menu again.

Gina’s choice, a braised pork shank served over cheesy polenta ($22.99), was the superstar of our visit. The Flintstones-sized shank was tender and flavorful, and the polenta was spectacular. Leftovers yielded two additional meals, so the whole thing was a great value.

Which leads us to the one small misstep of our dining experience: Carmine’s offers six a la carte sides, and Gina opted for the vegetable of the day ($5.99), mostly to find out what six bucks worth of green beans looked like. When you think it through, this was very unlikely to have a good result. The garlicky, buttery, beans were adorned with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and pretty good, but… they were a serving of green beans. And some of them had their stems still attached. For the same price, we could have doubled up on the heavenly polenta.

Or, for even less ($4.99), a side caesar salad, as the Big Dog ordered. He wished it came with anchovies, but instead, it was a big, crisp plate of romaine with a rich, creamy dressing.

The Big Dog’s entree was the lasagna with meatballs ($21.99). It was a very generous serving of food with that excellent tomato sauce. The Big Dog described it was a pasta omelet, with pasta on the bottom and top, with the gooey, flavorful filling, all topped with a thick layer of mozzarella. Beyond the unconventional construction, the dish had a tang to it that we failed to identify.

If you like to dine at the bar, as we do, this is an outstanding spot for it. You’ll look out over the main dining room and the centuries-old stone walls and hand-hewn beams while enjoying attentive service and excellent food.

Carmine’s at Candleworks
72 North Water Street, New Bedford

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