Dining Out

Long Awaited Cuisine

South Philly comes to South County

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Trattoria Longo is new to Westerly, but I was a big fan of its original incarnation as Café Longo on Federal Hill in Providence, so I was eager to check out its new location. Chef-owner Jerry Longo is a resident of Westerly. After two years of commuting to Providence on a daily basis, he made the decision to bring it all home. His new Trattoria Longo is in the Canal Street place formerly occupied by Bruna’s Table.

What sets a Longo restaurant apart from every other Italian restaurant in Rhode Island is that Jerry Longo and his family are from the Philadelphia/New Jersey area – a very different vibe from anything on Federal Hill, the Little Italy section of Providence. Jerry’s sister Carmela took really good care of us the night we were there, and her distinct Philly accent added to the experience.

A parking lot to the rear of the building provides plenty of free space, and you can enter from the rear although you’ll have to make your way through the dining area to get to the hostess station at the front of the restaurant. We had heard that this new spot was doing well, busy from the get go. It being a Saturday, we wisely showed up at 5pm, exactly when the trattoria opens for dinner. We were seated at a table for two that gave us a close-up view of the busy bar and a large flat- screen television where The Godfather movie was playing without the sound. Instead, music filled the air – of course, it was Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra crooning songs from the oh-so-cool 1960s. Within an hour, every table and every seat at the long bar were taken.

This is how it was at Café Longo on Federal Hill, so we felt right at home. The menu, too, was very familiar. Most of the food on the menu is what the Longos grew up on. Their mother can often be found in the restaurant’s kitchen, making her amazing meatballs. I can’t imagine going there and not having one of those tender orbs of meat wallowing in a perfect Sunday gravy, just like my Italian grandmother used to make. The Meatball Salad ($6.50) is served on an oblong platter with the meatball on one side of the dish and the basic Longo salad on the other side of the dish. The salad was Romaine lettuce with baby grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and black olives in an extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.

Another excellent appetizer is the Antipasto ($8.50), a larger platter covered with slices of buffalo mozzarella and ripe tomato, imported olives, generous chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, and Italian meats sliced so thin, you could almost see through them.

The menu is the epitome of simplicity with six pasta dishes, two fish dishes and six classic Italian dishes that can be prepared with either chicken or veal. Some might complain that the menu is too simplistic, but there are plenty of nightly specials that round out the offerings. I’d much rather see a restaurant do a dozen dishes to perfection over one with a twelve-page menu. There are no accompaniments to the entrees, so you can either order a pasta or one of the side dishes (sautéed rabe or spinach, both prepared with olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper).

We elected to share a penne pasta dish, the decadent Alfredo ($12.50), really just to do something different. At home and in restaurants, we always have a marinara sauce or perhaps a pink vodka sauce. Longo’s alfredo sauce is one of the best I’ve ever had, not soupy or gloppy or overly salted as so often happens in other restaurants. This was perfection on a plate, the kind of creamy pasta that you just keep on eating purely for the taste.

My order of Salmon ($18) was placed before me just as my dining companion’s Veal Parmigiana ($18) arrived. In addition to Carmela, other members of the wait staff tended to our every need in a very friendly, but not obtrusive fashion. At one point, my cloth napkin slipped off my lap onto the floor. One of the servers quickly picked it up and brought me a fresh napkin – much appreciated.

Simply said, the salmon was superb. At first, I thought it was a rather small serving, but as I ate bite after bite of that pan-seared fish coated with a velvety white wine sauce, I was totally satisfied. The delicate salmon was topped with tender artichoke hearts, briny capers and sun-dried tomatoes, which added to the buttery richness of this dish.

I was lucky to get a bite of the “veal parm,” as we say here in Rhode Island. The tender veal cutlets were topped with a true pomodoro sauce and melted mozzarella, then garnished with fresh basil. The mild cheese was stringy in that wonderful way, dripping down the sides of the fork.

The pasta sat in the middle of our table, and it was culinary bliss as we had a bite of veal, a bite of salmon, and then a bite of the penne coated with just the right amount of alfredo sauce. With a glass of white wine in my hand, it was one of those “life is good” moments.

With The Godfather playing just a few feet from our table, what else could I have for dessert but the Cannoli ($6)? Delicious? Yes, but pricey for what was served – one small, crispy tube of delicate fried pastry not even half filled with a sweet pastry cream. You could see the filling on the open ends of the pastry shell, but there was little to be found inside. A minor let down after such a terrific dinner. But Carmela more than made up for this when she brought us complimentary glasses of peach-cello, similar to limoncello but made with peaches – and made by Carmela! It was excellent. It’s good to see the Longo style of Italian food and hospitality alive and well in Westerly.