Owners Kara and Frankie Cecchinelli have infused their space with character.
By Karen Deutsch
67 Washington St., Providence, 808-6886, facebook.com/figidini. Hours Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat. Wheelchair accessible, though the space is tight. Street and lot parking. Cuisine Pizza in the Italian countryside. Capacity Two dozen including bar seats. Vibe Italian countryside meets the industrialized age. Prices Appetizers $10–$14; entrees $10–$18; dessert $9. Karen’s picks Anything grilled (that’s everything) is good. Take the bartender’s recommendation and don’t miss dessert. Cheese.
Recognizing that simple translates well, it's still easy to appreciate the personality that pervades every corner of the neighboring (and tiny) Figidini. Billed as a “wood-fired eatery,” it’s commonly and somewhat mistakenly known as a pizza place. Very cross-cultural American, right? But owners Kara and Frankie Cecchinelli have infused their space, which holds barely two dozen, with character. A giant photo of Frankie’s grandfather graces the wall, holding a jelly-jar glass of wine that craftsmen replicated for the restaurant. Seasonal drinks change at least weekly to incorporate ingredients provided by the extended family, including rhubarb from the garden of the bartender’s late grandmother. Nearly everything seems to have a story in this small room even if it’s not verbally expressed, most of it scented with the aromatic burn of the oven.
As familiar as the food is — pizza may surpass burgers as our quintessential daily bread — the atmosphere is indebted to an older generation and the traditions they’ve honed. Consequently, there’s always something magnetizing in the air that embodies not only food but the culture from which it's derived. With small portions of skirt steak, artichokes, asparagus and calamari coming off the grill, it’s 50 percent New England and an equal part ancient Italy.
The aesthetics are equally far-reaching. The Cecchinellis speak through every bit of tableware (1970s flea market meets the Jetsons) and swatch of wall art (framed birch trees), all a representation of their homegrown product. Frankie shapes the pies in front of the blazing oven, including a tart, slightly wet Margherita and an irresistibly charred sweet potato and goat cheese. Every dish is tethered in convention but each one presents itself in a different and more elevated manner. You may not think of ordering scallops in a small pizzeria but, deeply grilled and served with a tart honey sauce, it makes sense — and mimics the bright (tomato) and often sweet (buffalo mozzarella) interplay that infuses the pizza we so adore.
In the end, earthiness is the prevailing characteristic and yet it lifts rather than reduces the complexity of Figidini’s offerings. Even the nightly dessert, often a fruit marked by the oven’s char, is transformed into something beyond its inherent sweetness. Caramelized pineapple, grilled gala apples, even peaches served with whiskey-smoked sugar and ricotta ($7) are high-minded riffs on cobbler, concerned more with reminiscence than surprise. They’re proper translations that introduce diners to the origins of Italian cooking via their taste buds. Pizza caters to our culinary proclivities but, done just so, it manages to push just past what we know into what both comforts and inspires. It’s exactly the way classics are born.