Dining Review: La Masseria in East Greenwich

Revisiting one of Rhode Island's finest Italian dining institutions, located far off from Federal Hill in the suburbia of East Greenwich.

Bucatini vecchia roma pasta. Photography by Angel Tucker

The biggest challenge in assessing Rhode Island’s restaurants is in creating a hierarchy — or even a classification — for Italian restaurants. It’s the state’s most popular cuisine and, with innumerable interpretations of Italian gastronomic culture — casual, traditional, elevated, modern — it’s tough to discern which restaurants have forged an identity that is both unique and historically familiar. 

But La Masseria, a project that has its roots in Italy, New York City, Florida and the Ocean State, managed to gain a foothold almost immediately, not only because the menu never strays too far from the agriculture of Italy, but because its aesthetic is centered on a universal understanding of pastoral living. 


Insalata Masseria. Photography by Angel Tucker

Though the ground floor of the restaurant belongs to the retail world — a full view of the interior is framed by large windows that face the street — it’s the colonial-style house perched above it that dictates the mood. Just over the threshold, it’s easy to forget the twenty-first century issues because La Masseria is unabashedly bucolic. Designer Libby Langdon’s aesthetic draws from a trinity of earthy materials: stone, brick and wood are used on nearly every surface, punctuated by a wall of antique saws, drills and rakes. Translated as “fortified farmhouse,” Masseria evokes a repository of agriculture, a space in which abundance and basic ingredients are celebrated in equal measure. 

Italian to its core, all of the moving parts are a manifestation of family, though focus shifts between the table itself, who sits around it, and the proverbial love language of food. The largely male waitstaff brings a boisterous energy to the meal, discussing wine choices like they were life choices and offering suggestions with enough gusto to rally each party into the realization that, yes, burrata actually is a gift from the gods. 


Lava cake. Photography by Angel Tucker

If the space is an homage to earth, however, each dish manages to exist in the small space between city and country. Then again, that’s also a defining characteristic of the country’s cuisine: the simpler the ingredients, the defter the hands of the chef. In fact, the kitchen is most comfortable in that narrow space between urbane and traditional, familiar at the core but refined enough to draw the attention of diners away from each other and onto the plate.

Salads take up a lot of space on the menu because they manifest the tension between opposing forces — though, in this case, it’s texture. Arugula, endive, olives, pistachios, crisp bacon, ribbons of prosciutto, shards of Parmesan — all of it is a carousel of Italian agriculture. So while cold appetizers are easy to overlook, these plates ($12.50-$19.50) are a walking tour of what happens outside of the kitchen and a reminder that some of what Italy does best is to not cook at all. 


Branzino, roasted white fish served with lemons. Photography by Angel Tucker

Larger dishes, however, are part of the low-and-slow school of cooking, each sauce a story of simmering that has reduced over the course of the day and redolent of a Guadagnino film, lush with al fresco memory. The only ingredient as critical to the menu as tomatoes is wine and, red or white, it’s cooked down into the backbone of several dishes. Rabbit (coniglio alla caprese, $38.50) and chicken (bocconcini di pollo al vin cotto, $29.50) are layered with sauce and fragrant enough to feel like Sunday dinner, even if you didn’t grow up with a homecooked tradition. In fact, it’s this redolent scent — and what it manifests — that separates La Masseria from the panoply of Italian restaurants across the state. 

In most cases, it’s the casual places that feel like home and the formal dining rooms that remind you that you’re a guest in someone else’s home. La Masseria, however, feels transportive but servers still talk to you like a close cousin, reciting specials like the family motto and ribbing you when warranted. (“There’s still food on your plate,” said a seasoned server with disbelief. “You know Saturday is not the time for a diet, right?”)

But — no surprise — La Masseria packs the house because of its pasta. There are a few earthy, vegetarian options (including housemade short-cut fettuccini with eggplant and smoked mozzarella) but it’s the meat-based dishes that bring Italian-American cuisine to life. Tagliolini all’astice, with lobster and a light tomato sauce ($30.50), is nuanced and light — as is the veal and ricotta ravioli. Even the bucatini with pecorino and pancetta ($22.50), which is punctuated with smokiness, remains bright and delicate. It’s the schiaffoni della Domenica ($25.50), however, that throws down the gauntlet like an American dare. Pasta plays second-fiddle to a melange of short ribs, sausage and meatballs — a greatest hits of grandma’s kitchen, meant to be shared by anyone who plans to walk out on their own volition. 


The interior of La Masseria feels warm and earthy with its stone, brick and wood architectural details. Photography by Angel Tucker

And like any good nonna, the kitchen continues to prod at you to return to vegetables, in forms that are easy to sell. For any adult who managed to make it through life without a fondness for greenery, La Masseria defaults to fried zucchini and several other vegetables sauteed with enough garlic and olive oil to render them irresistible, even from a neighboring table. (“We weren’t going to do it,” said one table to the next, “but when your plate went by, we all decided we were all in on broccoli!”)

The restaurant may have its roots in New York City — where its first outpost opened — but owners Peppe Iuele, Enzo Ruggiero and Pino Coladonato have managed to make every corner of this two-storied space intimate. If it’s tough to get a table on the weekend, it’s just as easy to spend a whole evening and feel as if, in some way, the space is entirely yours. No doubt, part of the atmosphere comes from the waitstaff who speak readily on behalf of the kitchen. “If you’re having trouble deciding on dessert,” said a young server, “I’ll just make you a plate of the favorites so you can get everything you want.” 

The menu may not offer it, but La Masseria isn’t really interested in the small print as much as welcoming people to the extended family. 


Tagliolini all’astice with fresh fettuccine in tomato sauce and fresh lobster meat. Photography by Angel Tucker


La Masseria

223 Main St., East Greenwich, 398–0693, masseriari.com 

Open for lunch Mon.–Sat. Open for dinner Mon.–Sun.

Cuisine: Italian.

Capacity: 200.

Vibe: Tuscany through the lens of Merchant Ivory.

Prices: Appetizers: $12.50-$27.50; entrees: $22.50-$59; desserts: $8.50-$10.50. 

Karen’s Picks: Pasta, any meat cooked in wine, tiramisu.