Ambiance is a difficult thing to manufacture. Maria’s Cucina got a head start by moving into one of Providence’s most beautiful mansions – the Italo-American Club on Broadway.
The palatial 1897 house is replete with historical details like hand-painted bird fireplace tiles, wood-framed mirrors at least twice my height, coffered ceilings, attractive stained glass, and original murals the current restaurateurs discovered behind wallpaper. With each floor around 3,000 square feet and two levels of dining, eating here feels like being invited to a massive Victorian dinner party. It would have been a great day to sit on the porch, but how could I forgo these surroundings?
The Italo-American Club is possibly the oldest Italian club in America, predating the house by a year. I imagine they are proud to host Maria’s Cucina, which has a thoughtful menu and carefully prepared dishes. The restaurant’s name speaks to Providence history as well: Maria was owner Greg Costantino’s mother. Born in Federal Hill in the 1920s, she raised her seven sons in the neighborhood. Fondly remembering her Sunday dinners, owners Greg and Chris named the restaurant in her honor.
Our party of four started with two appetizers. The Fresh Burrata starter paired the cheese with Prosciutto di Parma and marinated artichokes. I was very impressed by the Involtini di Melanzane, eggplant rolled up with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto, finished with a filetto di pomodoro sauce. It was hearty, balanced, and I would have eaten the whole plate myself.
The menu here is organized the true Italianway, with appetizers, a pasta course, and a non-pasta entree. We followed this model, but if you’d rather skip one of the courses and have a pasta as your main, I’m sure you won’t be judged harshly.
We split two pasta dishes as a first course, and I could even imagine splitting one among four people with smaller appetites. The Linguine
Puttanesca is a classic, with all the saltiness of olives, capers, and anchovies in the tomato-based sauce. We also enjoyed the Ravioli Sopressa, a typical cheese-filled ravioli topped with sage.
Plenty of Italian wine is available by the glass or bottle at a reasonable price. We enjoyed the Prunotto Fiulot Barbera and the Coltibuono Centamura Chianti.
For our secondi (main entree), two of us ordered veal dishes. The Marsala, a manageable portion with a flavorful sauce, was served with a side of vegetables and roasted potato wedges. The Veal Milanese is basically an Italian version of the Austrian schnitzel, pounded, breaded, and fried. The side of lemony arugula salad contrasted nicely. We also enjoyed a special, a sliced chicken breast roll on fregola pasta, which looks similar to
From an earlier lunch visit, we knew dinner must end with one of the marvelous cannoli. This is one of the best cannoli I’ve eaten, even compared to those in Boston’s North End or New York’s Little Italy.
It would be easy for this new restaurant to impress with setting alone, but the menu holds its own. Maria’s Cucina is a perfect venue for Italian food on Federal Hill if you prefer a quieter dinner to the bustle of Atwells Avenue, and a fitting place to impress an out-of-town guest.
477 Broadway, Providence • 528-1111