Even after well over a century of marching from East Coast to West, it’s incredible to think that Italian food still has enough energy to double back on itself to visit one of its historic cradles. A new California-based franchise, MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Company is opening dozens of locations nationally. With a State of Emergency in Newport due to lack of gas supply, we took the opportunity to visit ours in East Providence. In the coldest weather of the year, we entered MidiCi to find ourselves flanked on one side by a shelf of the largest Nutella jars one can buy, and on the other by two large copper wood-fired ovens – the focus of the whole room. This is my kind of warming center!
At first glance from the outside, MidiCi’s modern design could be for a new poke place, ramen, American bistro, or really anything ontrend – not so in the kitchen. With a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano on a pedestal, and pizzas spending a hot 90 seconds in Italian-made copper ovens, there’s no mistaking the cuisine. The restaurant is very slickly designed, with curved bars echoing the pizza ovens, and faux greenery conveying some sense of a plaza in a very open room with lots of different seating options, including some curiously cozy arm chairs.
While the digs might be modern, MidiCi isn’t trying to mess with tradition when it comes to the menu. They choose their battles wisely with cuisine that can be made quickly without much compromise. Take their by-the-book margherita ($11), it ticks every box: the Caputo 00 flour, the San Marzano tomatoes, the fast cook, the char on the bottom. Fine-fast Italian is sure to have some Nonnas reaching for rolling pins, but with a clever menu like this one, they can pick off some of her grandkids. We had a pair of meatballs here for a little appetizer ($7), and a burrata caprese ($9).
You’d find the same meatballs for pasta, paninis, pizza, and calzones, and the burrata dots the menu as well. MidiCi has picked a good palette of ingredients, and they use it everywhere. This speeds things up without skimping on ingredients that really make or break dishes. They buy quality and use it throughout the menu in simple, traditional ways. Our gourmet chopped salad ($12.5) would be a great quick lunch – a crisp leafy green mix, shaved parmesan, chopped ham, peppers, neatly sliced egg.
MidiCi certainly isn’t fast food, but we did find it speedy – quick enough to nip in for a lunch hour, on our evidence. Like its napkins, it rests in that happy middle class, somewhere between folded paper and cloth. Dishes are plated up with real care, and, unlike a lot of Italian-American food, things are portioned for courses. At the same time, there isn’t anything rushing you along. The owner came by to warmly greet us, and later to chat and advise us about dessert. The seating certainly doesn’t rush you one bit. We had our meal at a table for two – one of the chairs in each pairing was a plush tall armchair. My wife of course took the throne.
It was here, after polishing off my Pinot Grigio ($10), that we tackled the owner’s recommendation; a Nutella and berry calzone ($8). Looking around after the meal, everyone who had arrived before us had done likewise, and those in the big chairs were slunk back, especially satisfied and chatty. The on-brand messaging about people being the heart of a restaurant, well, I’m jaded, but I also can’t argue. MidiCi might be a Californian business, but on the basis of the folks melting into their chairs on one of the coldest days of the year, I think some in East Providence will greet it as a prodigal son.