Whenever I mention Marcella's, I get an instant and strong reaction unrelated to the food (which I and most people quite like). In general, the place is considered to be trendy, loud and crowded.

Whenever I mention Marcella's, I get an instant and strong reaction unrelated to the food (which I and most people quite like). In general, the place is considered to be trendy, loud and crowded.

But what if I told you I recently dined at Marcella's next to smiling grandmas with kids in tow and we all had room to roam? If you're in the know, you'll nod and say, "Oh, you mean Marcella's out at Polaris."

While there are plenty of similarities between the original and still fun Short North Marcella's and its Polaris sister - they're both laudable Cameron Mitchell productions that make crowd-pleasing Italian food - the ease-of-dining difference is noticeable.

So yeah, Marcella's at Polaris is family friendly, but its stacked wine bottles, hushed lighting and red leather banquettes make it date-worthy too. A good way for such adults to kick off an evening here is with grown-up cocktails like the stiff Milan Manhattan ($9) or the aromatic Blood Orange Bitter Soda ($8).

The Stuffed Mushroom starter ($8.50) was an all-ages pleaser. Much more meat than 'shroom, a half-dozen caps were each crowned with a large ball of soft and sagey homemade sausage. Providing a bright accent was a lush pool of buttery lemon sauce.

A colossal serving of lightly battered, fried Calamari ($10) was far above average. Interspersed among the tender yet crispy squid pieces were fried, irresistibly tart lemon slices and zucchini chips. Sprinkles of chili flakes and grated cheese added high notes and a side of potent aioli gave oomph.

Marcella's salads were also strong. Thoughtfully served on chilled plates, they showcased fine ingredients with acidic-leaning dressings. Thus, an aggressive vinaigrette pleasantly tied together the components (lettuces, cucumbers, grape tomatoes and gorgonzola) of Marcella's Chopped Salad ($4).

And while fresh lemon juice plus crunchy homemade croutons enlivened a not-overly-creamy Caesar ($4), they played starring roles in a refreshing White Anchovy Bread Salad ($4.50).

Irregularly oval-shaped pizzas also scored high. Positioned tableside on elevated cheeseboards, the small- to medium-sized pies showed off thin and yeasty crusts and a restrained touch on the toppings. For a "Meatlover's" style that won't weigh you down, try the excellent Sicilian ($11) made with racy capacola, crisped-up salami and slices of terrific housemade meatballs.

Gnocchi Con Bolognese ($14) married pillowy soft pasta dumplings to an insanely rich and creamy tomato sauce fortified with wine and loaded with pot-roasty strands of lamb. This dish was delicious but not for lightweights.

The Pork Tenderloin ($17) entree likewise combined friendly plate partners. A trio of lean, cooked-to-medium, super-tender big-boy medallions were wrapped in pancetta and embellished with a warm, balsamic-dressed spinach salad plus dabs of goat cheese. It was a little rich, a little salty, a little tart and a lot satisfying.

By not messing with successful recipes or established techniques, the versatile and friendly Marcella's at Polaris easily meets its aim to please.