A few months ago I wrote about how Italian restaurants in Rhode Island are a dime a dozen – abundant and inexpensive – with almost every community in the state having at least one, if not more, Italian spots. In East Greenwich there are a few and sort of smack in the middle of some suburban streets lies Chianti’s, happily fulfilling the role of neighborhood joint, cranking out the calamari, the gnocchi and plenty of dishes – with a side of pasta or potato and vegetable – for everyone around to enjoy.
If you’ve ever driven to Goddard Park or gone to a wedding at Quidnesset Country Club, and who in Rhode Island hasn’t, you know exactly where Chianti’s is. It’s a big building which has certainly seen its share of banquets over the last 40 years. It’s had a few facelifts to keep with the times, though when you pass through the big front door it’s a little like stepping back into the well-wooded restaurants of our childhood. There is a nice large bar right in the middle of the dining room, which was almost full and bustling when we had dinner on a recent busy Saturday night.
As I said, the room was almost full, so we were seated right away. As busy as Chianti’s was, the service was very prompt and attentive throughout our dinner and, it seemed, throughout the room. We were going to start with wine, but as we turned the pages in Chianti’s enormous menu, we almost got lost in all the choices. There must have been around 50 dishes on the menu, and that’s not counting what had to be about ten or more specials our server discussed with us. There’s just about every Italian restaurant staple on the menu and it was certainly tough making a selection. Finally the four of us decided on our dishes and a bottle of wine and dug into the focaccia bread with warmed garlic olive oil that was quickly brought to our table.
A few moments later and the appetizers arrived. First up, it’s Rhode Island and it’s Italian, so we tried the Calamari Fritti ($9.99). No marinara sauce with this calamari presentation, but there were plenty of hot pepper rings and lots of garlic as well. It wasn’t the cleanest fry on the calamari, but the rings were tasty and not chewy at all. We also had the Pan Fried Fresh Mozzarella ($8.50), which did come with a side of marinara sauce. That sauce is certainly a big thing to judge at an Italian restaurant and I’m happyto say Chianti’s makes a fine marinara with good flavor and seasoning and very little sweetness.
For dinner we tried to vary our dishes and to get a good sense of the restaurant, since even if we dined there every day of the month we might not have had the chance to try all the entrees and specials they produced. We ordered the Gnocchi ($14.99), Chicken Fiorentina ($17.99), Veal Piccata ($19.50) and Eggplant Parmigiana ($15.99). The Chicken and Veal dishes both came with sides of pasta, or potato and vegetable, but this is a place for a side of pasta, no?
The Gnocchi is labeled “A House Specialty” on the menu and is a dish of house-made potato and ricotta cheese dumplings, in a pink sauce of marinara and vodka reduction. None of us had ever had gnocchi with the ricotta integrated into the pasta before; while it was a good stuffed pasta, it wasn’t what we were expecting. The sauce was good and the pasta held its shape, but it was almost like a bowl of stuffed shells instead of pillows of love.
The Chicken Fiorentina was chicken dipped in seasoned egg batter and pan seared, finished in a white wine, lemon-butter sauce, topped with prosciutto di parma, sautéed spinach, house made fresh mozzarella and tomato brunoise. It sounds like a lot of layers but it all came together very well with the exception of the spinach which didn’t add much flavor. The mozzarella was very good and it was one of the better of the four dishes, especially with a side of pasta with more of the tasty marinara sauce.
The Veal Piccata, lightly floured and pan seared, then sautéed with fresh garlic, capers in a lemon and white wine sauce, was a very straightforward dish. The veal could have been cooked a little less, but the sauce was flavorful and again with a side of pasta it made for a classic Italian restaurant meal. The Eggplant Parmigiana was also what you would expect, lightly floured, egg battered and fried eggplant layered with mozzarella and marinara sauce. It came baked in a deep dish, which held the layers together and allowed for lots of melting cheese in every bite.
We shared all these dishes with a bottle of white and a bottle of red, which I think perfectly sums up our trip to this delicious neighborhood Italian restaurant.