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RI’s Best Old-School Italian Restaurants

Thursday, March 01, 2012

 

One of the benefits of living so close to Ellis Island was the wealth of cultures that chose to live close to where they landed. Rhode Island’s food culture got a boost by the large number of Italian immigrants who chose to call this place home. As the years past our little state became a Mecca of good Italian restaurants. Federal Hill led the charge, but all corners of the state have benefited. We set out to enjoy some old-school macaroni and gravy and we found these five spots that will satisfy your craving…

 

The Italian Village, Wakefield

Every summer South Kingston enjoys a population explosion as the rest of the state descends on the beaches. And, although cookouts are the order of the day, we still get a hankerin’ for some Italian food a couple times a summer. We used to love Casa Rossi and lamented its demise, but found a new love in the Italian Village restaurant. What’s more old-school than two brothers from Italy, the Mollo brothers, coming to America and bringing all of their old world knowledge and passion the Italian Village. From the bread baked daily in their stone ovens, to the handmade pastas, this is authentic goodness. There are 13 kinds of sauce on the menu, but we only need Grandma Francesca’s Old World Red Sauce. Accented by the traditional pork, this is a hearty gravy that coats and sticks nicely to the pasta and the meatballs. We also enjoyed the Quattro pizza, with its four cheeses and fresh herbs. The stone oven makes a nice, crisp crust. 195 Main St. 783-3777, www.italianvillage-ri.com

Mike’s Kitchen, Cranston

Although the secret has long since been uncovered, if you were to drive up and down Randall Street , in Cranston, looking for Mike’s Kitchen you would not find it. Unless you know it’s located inside the Tabor-Franchi VFW post, you would be out of luck. Like most people, we were introduced to Mike’s through an older Italian relative. He said words like…”Mom’s” and “Real” and “Priced right” and he got you to try things like tripe and octopus and squid-not calamari- but real stuffed squid. One of the true stars here is the polenta. A humble peasant dish of cornmeal and stock and butter and cheese, it is elevated to new heights here. Most people would call you crazy if you told them that George and Johannes from Al Forno used Mike’s recipe for polenta in their 1st cookbook because they thought it was perfect as is, but that’s the truth. We love it with rabe and sausage. Another star here is the chicken soup. Served with a chunk of crusty Italian bread, this chicken soup is worth getting sick for: large pieces of tender chicken and veggies in a house made broth that has flavors of bay and thyme. Top it with some grated cheese and you have a meal right here. 170 Randall St. 946-5320.

Angelo’s Civita Farnese, Providence

As a third generation, family owned small business, Angelo’s is a marvel of simplicity. The same tables that greeted people 80 years ago still greet people today. There is something soothing about being able to sit in places that you know your ancestors sat also, and Angelo’s is that kind of place. This is old-school heaven, with meals such as meatballs and French fries costing $4.95. The word “civita” means community and that is the feel here with large tables that you may end up sharing with a senator, a performer or a blue collar guy looking for good value. For the kids, the old train that runs over the top of the dining room will keep their attention while you wait for their ravioli and your chicken parm. For those of us who got pastine when we were sick as kids, there is extreme comfort in the daily red or white pastine on the daily specials menu. It makes us feel like putting on the Banana Splits and curling up on the couch. And that is about as good a compliment that we can give it! 141 Atwell’s Ave. 621-8171, www.angelosri.com

Luigi's, Johnston

Veal Parm at its very best, but so much more. Luigi's captures the feel of a great family experience with take home - Gourmet Express - has the offerings that rivals Venda. The menu in the restuarant is surprising deep with everything from the classics to a healthier menu. The Battista family makes everyone feel like they are special. But, the portions size puts Luigi's in another world. The meals are robust and complete. The calamari - a GoLocal favorite - comes in two options, Classic and Raffi. Order both and argue which is better. Another Luigi's feature is the staff that is a constant and makes the experience perfect. Luigi's 1357 Hartford Avenue Johnston Restaurant: 401-861-3850 / Gourmet Express: 401-455-0045

Sardella’s, Newport

Former Newport mayor Richard Sardella was tired of looking for good Italian food in Newport that reminded him of his mothers cooking when he decided to open Sardella’s. He took family recipes and found a cool brick building to call home. One of the little know facts about the building is that the steel beams are leftover pieces of the Newport Bridge that they put to a different use. Mr. Sardella took recipes from his aunts and mother and turned them into the best Italian comfort food in Newport. Today the stove is manned by a talented chef named Kevin Fitzgerald. Now I know what you’re thinking…Fitzgerald? Well he has been manning the stove for years and we Italians have certainly accepted him as one of the flock. Giant, hand cut steaks, artfully prepared pasta dishes and some of the best veal in the state are just some of the reasons to keep coming back to Sardella’s. Chef Kevin uses all of Newport’s local bounty to make creative specials that showcase his talents with Italian food. And there is the sauce…fifteen to twenty GALLONS a day during the busy season. All made fresh every day. 30 Memorial Blvd. 849-6312, www.sardellas.com

Bella Pasta Ristorante, Pawtucket

For our friends in the northern end of the state, we offer Bella Pasta Ristorante. Since 2004, Bella has been offering tasty, traditional Italian food in a small brick building in Pawtucket. The rough hewn exterior is nothing like the food coming from the kitchen. The food is fresh and flavorful. The pasta dishes are well executed with al dente pasta tossed with the right amount of sauce--never soupy--and topped with delicious ingredients. One of the cool things at Bella is the “Early Menu,” which features 21 dishes for $12.99 each from 3-6 p.m. four days a week. (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) The dishes run the gamut from pasta to salmon to polenta. It is a great deal. We often find ourselves going back to the house specialties including the Bella risotto with lobster, shrimp and scallops with roasted tomatoes and shallot cream sauce. 514 Benefit St. 722-6297, www.bellapastaristorante.com

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