Mangia! The Ultimate Guide to Federal Hill
Follow the red, white and green stripes to authentic Italian restaurants, bakeries and butchers, plus a host of multicultural newcomers.
Whether you call it Federal Hill or Providence’s “Little Italy,” there’s no doubt that the neighborhood is changing, but there’s still a lot to love that’s exactly the same. Let’s appreciate what we have while we still have it, and also embrace some of the newer multicultural businesses that are making their home along the city’s famous red, white and green-striped stretch.
By Jamie Coelho and Julie Tremaine, with assistance by Samantha Labrecque
The definitive Guide to Italian Restaurants
If the Rat Pack chose a restaurant on the Hill for a hangout, it would be Andino’s. The casual Italian spot, which opened as a social club in 1988, features a lively bar and packed dining room with a hand-painted mural memorializing Federal Hill as we’ll always remember it. Photos of Frank Sinatra, the Sopranos, boxer Rocky Marciano, the Godfather cast and the late owner of the restaurant, Andino Merola, line the walls of the bar while Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby croon for eternity. The ambience pays homage to Federal Hill’s history, and it’s been bringing regulars back for decades for a menu of martinis, fried calamari, arancini bigger than a bouncer’s fist and veal and chicken dishes piled with enough meat and pasta for two meals. Either bring a big appetite or bring the rest home for take two. Must-try: The veal and chicken saltimbocca are the house specialties with thinly pounded chicken or veal, sliced prosciutto, mushrooms and butter and wine sauce. 171 Atwells Ave., Providence, 453-3164, andinosprovidence.com
Angelo’s Civita Farnese
You can almost hear grandma say, “J’eat?” Federal Hill’s casual Italian comfort food spot is accommodating to parties of all ages and sizes with an affordable menu and heaping portions just like family would serve. Angelo Mastrodicasa opened his namesake restaurant in 1924 and the fourth generation is celebrating its ninety-fifth anniversary of continuing to cook some of the best meatballs and gravy and chicken parm around. The Farnese part of the name comes from a little Italian town located twelve miles from Rome, which reflects Angelo’s Italian cooking style. Kids love the coin-operated LBG German train that travels the perimeter of the ceiling in the main dining room, and the little Conductors Menu is kid-approved, too. Just bring quarters and you’ve got live entertainment that puts cell phones to shame, and all of the money is donated to Rhode Island children’s charities. Must-try: The restaurant’s veal and peppers includes veal medallions slow-cooked in a stew with sweet peppers. And you have to get the meatballs with french fries, an Angelo’s favorite. 141 Atwells Ave., Providence, 621-8171, angelosri.com
We know we are in for a treat the moment the wine arrives. The bow-tied server gracefully holds a small glass carafe above the table, allowing a rich Rosso di Montalcino red to plunge into the wine glass awaiting below. Located for 100 years in a mansion off Bradford Street, Camille’s draws the biggest locally famous personalities and power players to its handsome dining room with masculine touches and an intricate bright glass installation by Jean Scott. Dinner portions are fit for the gods. Is that a trough? No that’s just a pasta dish. As for the menu, Italian classics like chicken parm, veal marsala and chicken francaise reign supreme, while glammed-up specials like prosciutto-wrapped halibut with creamy risotto and lemon butter sauce deserve attention, too, just expect special pricing. After dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, head to the lounge for live music and more drinks because it’s too soon to call it a night. Must-try: Stick with the classics for the main meal, and always go for the famous housemade spumoni dessert, a towering wedge of pistachio, strawberry and chocolate ice cream topped with whipped cream, candied fruit and Amarena cherries from Italy. 71 Bradford St., Providence, 751-4812, camillesonthehill.com
Only at Caserta is cheese considered a topping, so you better specify, and make it quick at this bustling pizza joint. Rhode Island’s answer to Sicilian-style pizza, these thick rectangular pies are laden with a blanket of chunky red sauce and a handful of options: cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and anchovies; that’s it. Go topless with just sauce or choose cheese bubbling all the way to the pie’s crisp, slightly burnt edges, or load it up with all five. Settle in at cafeteria-style tables in the casual self-service dining room where you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called. The home of the famous wimpy skippy also serves up spinach pies stuffed with black olives, cheese and pepperoni that are as famous as the pizza itself. Must-try: Grab a large tray pizza and order pigs in a blanket on the side. Sweet Italian sausage is rolled in dough with tomato sauce and Romano cheese, putting the usual grocers’ freezer appetizer on thin ice. 121 Spruce St., Providence, 621-3618, casertapizzeria.com
Cassarino’s is the type of place where a meal you might have ordered ten years ago still looks and tastes the same today, and that’s the charm of it. The three-floor restaurant is a different experience depending on which level you dine on; the first is the most casual with a newly renovated full bar and furnishings and the second and third levels have floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Federal Hill. The restaurant has been open since 1988 with an extensive multi-page menu including Rhode Island-inspired Italian classics like fried calamari, clams casino and littlenecks steamed in a Champagne and clam broth with scallions and prosciutto. Main meal options range from Italian specialties of the house, grilled options like burgers, filets and steak a la mama, as well as seafood like frutti di mare and shrimp scampi. Must-try: The chicken or veal casalinga with ricotta cheese, spinach, mushrooms, melted mozzarella and sauce or the Cassarino, breaded and fried chicken or veal with roasted peppers, mushrooms, imported ham and eggplant, melted mozzarella and marinara. 177 Atwells Ave., Providence, 751-3333, cassarinosri.com
Costantino’s Venda Bar and Ristorante
The showpiece is the margherita pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven that was specially delivered from Italy. The simple pie is made with high quality ingredients imported from Italy, including San Marzano D.O.P tomatoes, fiore di latte mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil on dough made with Caputo flour. Visitors can watch their pizza being made in minutes from the clear glass windows at the front of the restaurant, where a pizzaiolo shapes the dough, spreads the ingredients and then places the pizza in the oven using a long wooden paddle. All of Venda’s pizza makers were trained by a master pizzaiolo from Naples, who spent a whole summer teaching the craft to staff. In the summer, the patio opens and guests enjoy live music in DePasquale Plaza. Must-try: Any of the pizzas, whether you go simple or complex with figs, caramelized onions, goat cheese and prosciutto di parma for toppings. And of course, you can’t leave without an order of the famous handmade lobster ravioli. 265 Atwells Ave., Providence, 528-1100, costantinosristorante.com
Guests lucky enough to nab a table at this tiny eighteen-seat restaurant (keep calling and leaving voicemails, a reservation might open eventually) will be surprised to find out there isn’t a menu at all. Johnson and Wales University graduate and chef-owner, Lia Bellini, is the fixture in the kitchen while her husband, Umberto, finesses the dining room, and they’ve decided to do away with daily choices and only serve five-course fixed price meals that are different each day, depending on what’s available from local producers and flown in from Italy. They will make accommodations for dietary restrictions in advance but, mostly, what they make is what you get. And trust us, it’ll be worth putting dinner in their hands. There will surely be imported wines from small family-owned wineries and fresh pastas, handcrafted and accented by the best quality, simplest ingredients. It’s the Italian way. must try: The buffalo mozzarella is flown in from Umberto’s cousin’s farm in Italy. It’s always a favorite, as are the simple handmade pastas accented by seasonal ingredients. 256 Atwells Ave., Providence, 272-8466, enotecaumberto.restaurantwebexpert.com
Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen
The Old Canteen is like a celebrity that never ages; she looks as good as the day she opened in 1956 by the late Joe Marzilli. The restaurant has been helmed for more than a decade by Joe’s son, Sal Marzilli, who hasn’t changed much in the iconic dining room, including the “rose” paint on the walls, refreshed every three years. “I don’t have any intention of changing it, or I would have eleven years ago,” Sal Marzilli says, adding that he recently replaced the carpet, and added new draperies this past November. If you want to channel the late, great Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, request table five by the window. The epic menu features the usual Italian classics — from veal osso bucco and shrimp scampi to chicken francaise — but if you want to be like Buddy, order his favorite dish: Sicilian-style baked haddock in breadcrumbs with or without hot peppers. must try: You can turn any meal into a seven-course feast for an extra $2, which adds an antipasto salad, soup, pasta, dessert and coffee or tea. For dessert, you’ll get a choice of the trademark Jello or ice cream roll, but upgrading to housemade spumoni is a must (although it’s an additional charge). 120 Atwells Ave., Providence, 751-5544, theoldcanteen.com
The carbonara is the dish to get for lunch and dinner (or even brunch for that matter) at this modern, upscale Italian eatery. Linguine swirls beneath flecks of crisp guanciale, a dusting of pecorino romano and a quivering farm egg yolk delicately placed on top. Break the yolk with the tine of the fork and mix it all up so the flavors meld. It’s like bacon and eggs on pasta. Massimo serves regional Italian cuisine and organic and biodynamic wines from boutique Italian wineries that can’t be found elsewhere. Warm focaccia is delivered to tables with a side of eggplant caponata from a bread station in the center of the restaurant. Take advantage of various dining deals throughout the week, including Monday night wine and dinner for two for $49 and Appy Hour with $5 appetizers and bar bites during weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Must-try: The three-course Presto lunch special for $16.95, Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hint: the carbonara is an option. 134 Atwells Ave., Providence, 273-0650, massimori.com
Pane e Vino
Second-generation Italian-American chef and owner Joseph DeQuattro, born in Providence, has served his mother’s and grandmother’s recipes for more than seventeen years on Federal Hill. The classic and consistent dining room provides an elegant setting, whether it’s a weekday night out or a special occasion with a larger group. Seasonal specials are always worth a consideration (especially the stuffed, fried squash blossoms in summer!), but the mainstays are the fried calamari with dried tomatoes, white balsamic vinegar and hot peppers, and pan-seared scallops with grilled polenta. Must-try: The $24 three-course prix-fixe dinner featuring antipasti, entree and dolce (dessert), available Monday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., and all day on Sundays. 365 Atwells Ave., Providence, 223-2230, panevino.net
Pastiche Fine Desserts
Stepping from the sidewalk leads straight into Europe at this intimate Providence cafe and bakery. The fire roars on brisk days, and a cup of steaming cappuccino will call your name to a cozy nook with table service. Scope out the scratch-made desserts displayed at the glass counter — order in or take a box of treats to go — but we suggest pulling up a chair and experiencing a slice of the famous tiramisu or fresh fruit tart on site for the full, restorative effect. Cave under pressure and order one of everything because that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do. Must-try: Obviously if you’ve never had the buttery-crisp, seasonal fruit tart with creamy vanilla custard, that’s a must. But the rich chocolate torte and raspberry almond cake are equally as sweet-tooth soothing. 92 Spruce St., Providence, 861-5190, pastichefinedesserts.com
This authentic Tuscan hot spot has you covered with a variety of both hearty and delicious Italian dishes. Think: Frutti di mare with shrimp, littlenecks, ocean scallops, white fish and swordfish sauteed in a red clam sauce, or a more traditional plate of penne pasta tossed with a mildly hot pink vodka sauce topped with fresh grated cheese. Gotta big appetite? Order the Manzo di Giuseppe, a fourteen-ounce slab of Black Angus sirloin. The dish is finished with a pinch of sea salt, Tuscan olive oil and a dash of fresh lemon juice. It’s true: Portions are hefty but nothing goes to waste when the food tastes just as good the second time around. Must-try: Don’t dismiss the appetizers. Begin your meal with a signature tasting board including ciabatta crostini, candied nuts, fig jam and a variety of meat selections. 238 Atwells Ave., Providence, 521-3311, sienari.com
Trattoria Zooma is known for its housemade pasta, wood-fired pizzas and a terrific selection of wines tasted in flights or by the glass. Not able to spring for a whole bottle? Indulge in a pour. The bar is the first on Federal Hill to feature the Enomatic Cuvee Wine Preservation System with thirty-two high-end red wines that can be poured by the glass, as well as up to forty white wines by the glass. The atmosphere includes local art on the vibrant, purple walls and a burning fire, plus windows that look onto Providence’s bustling Federal Hill. Inside, diners dig into master of the house Armando Bisceglia’s family recipes from his Naples heritage, like tagliatelle nere al gamberi, black squid ink pasta with shrimp. The lunchtime dining deal is a three-course menu for only $15.95 per person Monday through Friday. Must-try: The gnocchi pomodoro features handcrafted potato dumplings in a roasted garlic and tomato basil sauce with shaved pecorino romano. Ask about the secret menu, which includes pizza fritta, a deep-fried Neapolitan calzone stuffed with ricotta, black pepper and pork belly. 245 Atwells Ave., Providence, 383-2002, trattoriazooma.com
It’s a pine cone, not a pineapple! The sculpture hanging from the center of Federal Hill’s gateway arch is “la pigna,” also known as a pine cone. It is a traditional Italian symbol of abundance and quality and has become the symbol of Federal Hill.