Daniela’s: the taste of Sardinia in Hampden

FOODWISE BALTIMORE: Fabulous pasta in a teeny tiny rowhouse.


Daniela’s culingionis, a Sardinian pasta stuffed with potatoes, saffron and mint in a basil-tinged sauce.

Photo by: Francine Halvorsen

Sardinian pasta and pastry on The Avenue? Word-of-mouth reached me that I should check out Daniela’s, the shop Daniela Useli opened about nine months ago in a tiny rowhouse in the North Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, on 36th Street, just off Elm Street.

Useli has made pasta for Sotto Sopra and, nearby, for Grano, and had wanted her own shop for some time. When Eye Candy vacated the space, Daniela made it her own.

I talked to Daniela a bit recently about Cagliari in Sardinia, where she lived until moving to Baltimore 12 years ago. She explained that they were a big family, five brothers and a sister. Her husband also has many siblings as well as nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and . . . well you get the idea. Sometimes she would cook dinner for 60 people and loved it.

Daniela Useli, holding the basket she uses to make fregola. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Daniela Useli, holding the basket she uses to make fregola. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Visiting her far-flung family, Daniela has traveled and cooked in many parts of Italy, but until moving here, Cagliari had been her home. When I asked what brought her family to Baltimore, she explained that her husband is a scientist at NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) at Bayview. A real Baltimore story.

Daniela’s specialties are the pasta and pastries but she is also a maestra di sugo et ragu (mistress of various sauces). So far, my favorite pastas are the culingionis, a potato-stuffed oval pasta flavored with saffron and a bit of mint. The sauce has bits of fresh basil. There’s also pasta with mushroom sauce and vegetable lasagna. The meat ravioli are the size of saucers.
Open Mon.-Thurs. 11:00 am to 8:00 pm
Fri.-Sat. 11:00 am to 9:00 pm
Closed Sunday
900 West 36th St.
Baltimore MD 21211
Tel – 443 759 9320


At a time when shops making only meatballs are becoming popular elsewhere, Daniela’s baseball-sized meatballs in a thick tomato sauce would hold there own anywhere.

Because I don’t own a microwave, I placed the meatballs in a shallow ceramic baking pan in a 275-degree oven and got them nice and hot. I ate them topped with a bit of shredded Parmesan cheese, a salad and some crusty bread with an olive oil dip. Easy and tasty.

Baltimore’s best Sfogliatelle?

The pastry, for which she is known, exceeded the raves reviews that had reached me. The clamshell-shaped sfogliatelle (layers of phyllo-like pastry ribbons wrapped around a sweet, custardy ricotta cheese filling with bits of glazed orange rind and a “secret ingredient”) are exceptional – the best I have had in the city.

Daniela's homemade lasagna, to stay or go. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Daniela's homemade lasagna, to stay or go. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

I also dare anyone not to return for the tiramisu. A frequently ordinary dessert on many menus, here it is a cloud of melt-in-your-mouth flavors that are truly memorable.

The two dishes I want to try next are the crabmeat ravioli and the fregola, a couscous-like dish that Arab sailors brought to the island ages ago.

The fregola is made by mixing semolina, water and local saffron in a bowl and then rubbing it through the bottom of a loosely woven basket, of a type that has been made and used in Sardinia for hundreds of years.

Many of Daniela’s recipes are inherited from grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The portions are generous and will serve one with leftovers, or two if you are combining.

When I met with Daniela the other day she had arranged for Nancy Scheinman, a Baltimore artist and friend, to be there. Scheinman painted the colorful and space-expanding mural on the rear wall from sketches and photographs she made when she visited Daniela in Cagliari.

Joey Salvatore behind the counter at Daniela's. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Joey Salvatore behind the counter at Daniela's. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

The first person I met behind the counter was Joey Salvatore, self-described as Daniela’s apprentice and translator. A few minutes later Daniela’s oldest son, Stefano, came in carrying a tray of miniature palmieri, crisp pastry rounds, sandwiching sweet chocolate cream. They are the go-to folks at most of the time. Daniela is usually upstairs in the kitchen.

Daniela’s is really a carryout place, but there are two small tables inside, frequently occupied, and on nice days 2 outside as well. In the summer there may be a few more outdoor tables alongside the building. And, keep your fingers crossed, real gelato.

Daniela’s is expecting to have a website up and running very soon. We will post it here when they do.

Until then, just come in and check out the low-tech chalkboards or the equivalent they have inside and out. Buon appetito!

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  • Justin Winokur

    This sounds very good. I sent my this article to my girlfriend and her response:
    “We have to go here!!!!!!!!!”

    Thanks Brew writers for sharing culture in addition to news!

    • Francine Halvorsen

      You are very welcome. Our pleasure!

  • glsever

    The Avenue is really starting to thrive as a destination for good food – its not just cheap burritos and vegan food anymore! 

    I hope you take the chance to check out the new restaurant that is going in where the Hampden Food Mart used to be, once they open.  I am very curious what that will be like…

    • Flordiligi

      I knew this lady when she was at Sotto Sopra.  Her food is superb, and I encouraged her to try to work some connections to get a TV chef gig.  Looks as tho she is doing me one better, because we all get to enjoy her great food.  Not elegant, just really delicious.  Come on down!

  • Unellu

    USA–2012–FOOD–conundrum, contradiction and confusion
    Dedicated to Francine Halvorsen–I have my excuses ready–
    Off to Daniela’s–here I come–Thanks for the awesome pictures Francine–they exemplify the concept looking is tasting.

    Food to die for and food to die from,
    one and the same-
    on the same plate–
    in the same place–
    this is  the USA– a conundrum.

    Chef Paula D says she has diabetes 2–
    Heck it can be treated–
    Big deal. 

    Cooking with butter–
    and cream and cheese–
    can’t be beat– for tradition, aroma-
    and the luxury of fat in every bite–
    is the way it was supposed to be
    for epicurean satisfaction.

    Don’t eat lean–lean means no passion-
    no emotion–no edgy sensuality–
    beneath lean lies a craven fear–
    of living for the tongue–
    a muscle studded with buds-
    ready to bloom if fed right.

    And right is not lean–
    right is not might–
    right is not mean–
    it’s weak–

    Says the menu from Sardinia–
    yellow from saffron and bedazzling–
    to the extreme–
    “Throw caution to the wind!”
    it is about living not dying–
    it is about today not tomorrow–
    it is about satiation–not deprivation–
    it is about joy not sorrow–

    Gather round and observe the cook–
    from a sunnier clime–
    chop, stir–
    saute and purr–
    like a feline on all fours stretching–
    grunt with satisfaction–
    that her creations will linger in heads–
    longer than on tongues.
    Succumb to her sumptuous temptations–
    and forget the serpent in the garden–
    waiting to strike….

    But if at the end of many such forays–
    you should reach unsavory proportions–
    and your doctor should kindle you– admonishing–
    why you must not do what you have done–
    why you must not be the way you’ve been with food–


    “O doc–I don’t know what’s the matter,
    I am growing too fat,
    I am eating so little–
    You go figure that!

    I am good doc,
    Really, really good,
    When I am not depressed–
    I never think of food.

    If my mood is upbeat,
    I never think of food,
    I never crave a morsel,
    When I am really, really good.

    But I have a real problem,
    What’s sitting on my head,
    Is a big gray blob,
    That’s made out of lead.

    I am down in the summer because the sun is hot,
    I am down in the autumn because the leaves fall out,
    I am down in the winter because I hate the cold,
    I am down in the spring with my extra belly folds.

    You ask me what’s my favorite food?
    Ice cream comes to mind–
    Isn’t that your favorite too?
    The cookie dough kind,
    I love its speckled hue.

    What are the foods I HATE?
    Mmm! Now let me think awhile!
    I learned as a child–
    That hatred is so toxic–
    It can eat you alive.

    Over the years doctor–
    I’ve grown to love them all–
    Tater tots and carrots,
    And the cookies in the mall.

    I am not a a haughty sadist,
    I’ve no bias in my heart,
    I can’t hurt the pies,
    By picking the jam tarts.

    I can’t hurt the fries-
    by picking the baked potato–
    I can’t hurt the pizza–
    by picking the ripe tomato.

    You see my strange dilemma,
    I’ve always been this way–
    My overwhelming kindness–
    Is my downfall–night and day…

    I know what you’re thinking doc,
    I have you figured in my head,
    I know in your fantasies–
    I am lying cold and dead..

    Hence you want me on a diet,
    With no salt, no sugar, no fat,
    No red meat, no fried foods–
    My knees on a yoga mat.

    O doc before I crack,
    And allow you in my closet,
    I have here a pie I baked–
    that is completely peerless,
    Why do you look so scared–
    I thought that you are fearless.

    I haven’t lost a pound–
    since I saw you last?
    O drat!
    I will get there doc–
    It’s not good to do it fast.
    Go on, go on, honey–
    Eat up your sugar pie,
    I’ll wait for you to finish–
    Don’t bother to be shy.

    When I had no money,
    And I was poor as dirt,
    I dreamed of everything I’d eat,
    And how with food I’d flirt,
    Now that I can afford–
    to eat anything I want–
    The cruelty of irony–
    I am confined to grass and plants…

    I know doc–this sentence–I must accept!
    Nothing that tastes good–
    From now on will pass my lips,
    And folks will find my waist-
    When they’re searching for my hips!

    You don’t believe me? I PROMISE!”

    Famous last words.

    Usha Nellore


    • Francine Halvorsen

      Praise for your prandial paean
      PLease though, not famous Last words
      Only your most Recent
      with appreciation

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