My Italian Weekend (On Federal Hill)

Thursday, June 09, 2011


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Jet fuel was ruining my plans. As expensive by the ounce, it seemed, as last week's cocktail, the stuff was jacking up European travel to a pricetag increasingly out of reach. My dreams of an Italian vacation were fading with the months heading into summer.

And then I had a brilliant idea. "Pack a bag," I said to my son. "We're going to Italy. For the night."

Could I swap Alitalia for Atwells?

What I had in mind was to put to experiential test a maxim of Providence life: we had our own slice of Italy on Atwells Avenue. Could I swap Alitalia for a cab ride to Atwells? We set off to see.

Stop one: DePasquale Square, and yes, it is a European piazza - big, splashing fountain with low and broad benches around it, awninged cafes with dozens of small tables lining the perimeter, and even a genuine poultry purveyor tinging the breeze with the mordant blend of feed, feather dust, and blood.

Romantic, aromatic, a little dangerous. Italy?

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It had to start with grilled pizza

It had to start with grilled pizza, so straight to a two-top at Gepetto's Grilled Pizzeria for an Old World pizza with mozzarella, diced red tomatoes, basil, fresh minced garlic, and grated parmesan. We watched the light change the square from quiet dusk to lit-up nighttime, with couples and families filling up tables and the chatter and laughter echoing from cafe to cafe.

We'd decided to make our night the Federal Hill version of a progressive dinner, so out of the square and down Atwells for mains. To Mediteranneo - packed as usual, casement windows wide open to the lively street life, and pulsing with zipping, gracious waiters.

With a brimming bowl of Zuppa Di Pesce Mediterraneo at my setting, the night felt nearly Venetian, with fresh calamari, scallops, fresh fish, little necks and shrimp, in a light tomato saffron broth. More Chianti? Of course.

We migrated to Amici Bar & Grille for dessert and cappuccino. With a thematic detour back to Rhode Island, we dug

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into a basket of ricotta and cinnamon fritters, balls of sweet dough filled with ricotta and tossed in cinnamon and sugar. An indulgent dogleg to stateside, but we managed.

My work, his school, our normal Providence lives, were oddly absent

Back to the square we went, walking and talking about every part of our meal, reminiscing about past trips we'd taken in France and Turkey, Mississippi and Tennessee, put in that globally disconnected state that travel places you. My work, his school, our normal Providence lives, were oddly (delightfully) absent.

But how little we were prepared for the room we'd booked at Hotel Dolce Villa. The innocuous lobby gave way to even more innocuous stairs and a barely notable doorway. But what was on the other side: a suite of rooms as luxurious as they were contemporary. It was like being inside a brand new, white iPod, but with sofas and beds and a kitchen with a brand-name coffeemaker, and balcony that looked right back out onto DePasquale Square.

It was hard to believe such a hotel room existed in Providence, so much more like suites in New York or LA. We each fell asleep to the slowly decrescendoing hubbub of the square, and when I woke early to make coffee and read, the view out was a study in stillness, a moribund square not yet returned to life. The paper remnants of nights out, of first dates, littered the pavement stones. The water in the fountain set still and out of sight in its basin. Slowly, silently, one ash-gray cat wove its way through stacked cafe chairs and tables.

I wake up to Providence every day. I know its sounds and smells, the way the traffic hums of 195 and 95 carry across the morning air, even the way the sky blues up and then fades with the encroaching day. But call it a lie of the mind, or a delusion brought on by wishful thinking, but I stared at a square that looked completely new. In my white robe, bare feet planted on my tiny balcony, I was a visitor. I smelled coffee brewing downstairs in the cafe next door. And felt, truly, as though I'd need to get to an airplane to get home. And was in no hurry to get one.

Geppetto's Grilled Pizzeria, 57 Depasquale Square, 270-3003.
Mediterraneo Caffe, 134 Atwells Ave, 331-7760,
Amici Bar & Grille, 242 Atwells Ave, 490-0409.
Hotel Dolce Villa, 63 DePasquale Square, 383-7031.

Win a night in Italy

Want to win your own 'Night In Italy' without having to ever leave Providence?
Visit the Mediterraneo Facebook page and enter to win! Click Here to enter.


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