Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Little Italy of Providence, Rhode Island

My first full day in Providence, Rhode Island found me walking through downtown, the historic district, and finally over to Federal Hill, Atwells Ave., which is the little Italy of Providence. Amazing to think how many times I’ve driven through Providence on my way to Boston and never realized that this wonderful little corner of Italian culture existed here. Atwells Ave. is lined with restaurants, delis, and pastry shops, all with an Italian flair. Also along this strip I found Gasbarro’s Wines, a shop with a great selection of Italian gems and rarities, which is worth stopping at all on its own.

However, it was lunch that topped it all off. Going off a recommendation from Gasbarro’s, I made my way over to Venda Ravioli, an Italian specialties shop and grocer with an attached restaurant named Costantino's Ristorante & Caffe.

Found in a little plaza off of Atwells Ave., Costantino's Venda Ravioli is a shop I would love to live near. Everything you need to create an Italian dinner, cater an event or just grab lunch can be found in Venda Ravioli, along with a small army of employees working the deli counters and an attached kitchen that prepares the foods for both Venda Ravioli as well as Costantino’s.

Upon asking about lunch, I was escorted across the courtyard to an elegant dining room overlooking the plaza. The menu was well thought out with a number of selections that tempted me, but the one that got me was the Ravioli Gigante Sorpresa. (“giant surprise”). The surprise is that they don’t tell you what’s in the ravioli, but along with the recommendation from Gasbarro’s for the restaurant came especially high praise for the ravioli.

So what was in it? In this case, it was a mix of three different fillings. One was a simple but perfectly creamy and seasoned ricotta. It was made with romano and ricotta cheese, eggs, seasoned breadcrumbs and fresh parsley. Rich and enjoyable to the last bite, it mixed perfectly with the sage butter sauce that accompanied the plate. Next was crabmeat with bitter greens. This was perfectly good on its own, but a little odd to my palate with the sage butter. Lastly, I had pumpkin ravioli, one of my absolute favorites, and this one was firing on all cylinders. Rich and creamy with a cedar spicy twang, it mixed perfectly with the sage butter.

If there was one thing that I would like to see added to this menu, it’s a larger selection of wines by the glass. However, this was a minor issue since I was perfectly happy with a simple prosecco.

I highly recommend visiting Federal Hill on your next visit or drive through Rhode Island; any lover of anything Italian will enjoy it. On to more food and wine in Providence, but I’m happy knowing that I will be returning to Atwells Ave. to attend a tasting and dinner at the Blue Grotto this weekend… More to follow.

To check out the website for Gasbarro's wines, click here. (Unfortunately, they do not have their inventory online.)
To check out the website for Costantino's Venda Ravioli, click here.

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