On the downtown end of Atwells, just a few blocks past the iconic pine cone (often mistaken for a pineapple), a small unpretentious restaurant offers diners a respite from the usual madness of the strip. That is not to say that the Bradford is particularly quiet – it’s energetic, but the vibe is decidedly different. While some of Atwells’ Italian restaurants are fancy productions, with valeted Lamborghinis and impeccable attire, this is the kind of place you’re more likely to have a meaningful conversation with your date or casually chat with friends over a hearty meal.
The Bradford opened five years ago; taking its name from Bradford Variety, the mom and pop corner store and deli that had occupied the location for decades. The continuity goes deeper than just the name, as restaurant owner Mario Purro took over his family’s business. It’s a small but comfortable space, with old brick walls, painted tin ceiling tiles and warm lighting. I don’t remember the Bradford Variety, but from what I’ve heard, both new and old tenants of this 142 Atwells storefront cultivated a friendly supply of regular customers. We visited the Bradford during the week and on the weekend, and we always found it filled with a vibrant crowd in good spirits.
The Bradford’s menu is limited, but that’s not a bad thing – especially in a smaller restaurant, it means the chef is conscious of what the kitchen will be able to consistently deliver. The menu changes seasonally and some of the most popular dishes stay on, but you may not always be able to get that one dish a friend raved about (like the supposedly excellent arancini).
We started with the Meatballs & Shoestrings appetizer ($12), two large meatballs with gravy. According to the menu, these were a “family tradition... perfected over generations.” They were served with shoestring fries and mixed greens, sprinkled with Pecorino and basil. We loved the meatballs, well seasoned and not too dense, as well as the sauce. We followed with the Grilled Caesar salad ($12). Most of the appetizers and salads are available both in half and full portions; the full portion of our salad was perfect for two people. On a previous visit we also tried the calamari. It comes in two versions, the more traditional Fritti and the balsamic-glazed Caprese, and has been popular enough to bridge seasonal menu changes.
Browsing the entrées, I immediately zeroed in on the Norcini ($18). This pasta dish combines rigatoni with Italian sweet sausage in a light cream sauce flavored with Parmesan and nutmeg. The evening’s cool weather called for a hearty dish, and although I would have been better off showing restraint, I couldn’t help eating the whole plate. Cream pastas can be insipid but this had a good balance, with crumbles of flavorful sausage in every forkful of pasta. My husband had the Veal ($19), described as a tender top round veal cutlet sautéed with shaved fennel and white wine served over lemon risotto. This was a winner as well, and I was torn between saving room for more pasta and stealing bites of his dish. The veal was indeed tender and its salty sauce paired well with the fresh lemon and fennel flavors. Carb lovers take note - bread doesn’t come to the table uninvited, but if you want some, just ask.
The restaurant has fewer than ten tables, but a large bar almost doubles the seating and is more than wide enough for comfortable dining. The Bradford takes reservations, so if you don’t end up there on a whim, I’d recommend making one especially now that recent Groupon sales have attracted a new crowd of diners.
With our meal, we drank a couple of glasses of the house wine (Cupcake), available by the glass in several varietals ($7). The bar menu also listed a handful of seasonal martinis, cordials, other wines and beers, including three drafts and a mixture of craft and popular bottles. The Stoudt’s Fat Dog ($7) my husband ordered when we arrived was a tasty imperial oatmeal stout I haven’t seen on many Providence bar menus.
On a previous visit we enjoyed a grilled pound cake and strawberry dessert that was taken off the menu with the summer’s end, but convinced us it was worth saving room for dessert. This time, we shared a rich slice of Tiramisu ($6), which wasn’t too boozy or heavy. We were especially impressed by the staff, who were professional, quick on their feet, and helpful with recommendations. As we walked out, full and in a good mood, it was easy to understand why The Bradford attracts so many regulars.