Ah, Historic Federal Hill. A staple in Providence’s foodscape bustling with culture and seemingly endless classic Italian eateries. The archway adorned with the oversized pinecone (some of yall think its a pineapple, and you are incorrect) stands as a welcome sign, to all of those who are hungry. While we love a good ol’ spaghetti and marinara, we were looking for Italian cuisine that pushes the traditional boundaries and explores a variety of the deeper flavors of Italy. Enter, Massimo.
The vibes upon walking in the door at Massimo are that of an eclectic, Euro-retro style eatery. The familiar red checkered tablecloth that marks a typical American-Italian style dining is nowhere in sight. And we are relieved. Refreshingly enough, Massimo stands out on Atwells not just because of the menu, but also the atmosphere. The walls are adorned with the iconic pasta lover, Sophia Loren. The space is welcoming, yet romantic. When the sun dips down, twinkling lights make constellations in the windows and the dim lighting draws you in. My favorite part of the space? The long farmers table at the center of the dining room, spread with olive tapenade, whole wheels of cheese, a cured leg of prosciutto, and freshly baked breads. Servers use this table to provide pre-dinner snacks to their guests, and it becomes the focal point of the room. If just the bread is a signifier of how dinner is going to unravel, it is looking as lovely as Ms. Loren.
As we settle in, the full bodied red wine is poured, the napkins are in our laps, and the silverware can be found in both the left and right; we are ready to eat. Set before us are two little buns (gosh, we are swooning already!) each gently cradling a juicy meatball, a sliver of mozzarella cheese and a whole leaf of basil. These meatball sliders are the hand-held version of the classic Italian sandwich, the meatball sub, so I suppose they’re it’s adorable little sister. Juicy and tender, and gone in just a couple of bites!
As our next appetizer arrived, we bowed our heads and had a moment of silence for our friends and family members who are lactose intolerant. It is an honest travesty that they are held back from enjoying one of life's greatest pleasures; cheese. The rustic slice of wood displayed rolls of thin sliced salami, capicola, and imported prosciutto di parma to be paired with a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese and a creamy gorgonzola that I assume was churned by angels in the heavens. To pair, we noshed on stuffed cherry and banana peppers, queen and kalamata olives, pickled artichoke hearts, and crispy slices of toast. The flavor combinations were seemingly endless, giving the feel of a new taste with every bite.
For the main event, we were wowed by Massimo’s squid ink spaghetti. If you have never had or seen squid ink pasta, it is dark in color, almost black, and adds subtle hints of brine to the dish which makes it ideal to be twirled on a fork with seafood. Here, is was simmered in a light lobster cream, tossed with a english peas and mushrooms, and finished with a dusting of bread crumbs. Finally, topped with tender, succulent lobster, the king of the sea. Lobster being naturally sweet balanced out the brine of the squid ink and was brought together by the touch of cream, and showed that this flavor profile of this dish was well thought out. While we felt like royals eating it, we didn’t look the part while we slurped the spaghetti!
While I adore any and all savory foods, my heart truly belongs to sugar. So no matter how full my body may feel, my mind shh’s it and responds with a “yes, we will see a dessert menu”. Cannoli’s are an Italian dessert that really hit all the marks, crispy fried pastry folded around lusciously thick and creamy filling and rolled in candied pistachios. Of course, the star here is the sweet filling, which may have been some of the best we’ve ever tasted. It was heavy, but also fluffy and so wonderfully sweet, and the touch of candied nuts really sent us over the edge. Some people clink their glasses together to raise a toast, we cheers with cannolis.
Of course Federal Hill is home to Providence’s historic Italian lineage, so the cooking is always bellissimo. But we feel that Massimo is above average for a number of reasons. You can find the classic staples like chicken marsala and bolognese, while also having a wide selection of fresh seafood options and eclectic Italian inspired dishes such as our squid ink lobster dish. Our celiac friends who normally are left out of the pasta and bread conversation rejoice. Seriously, we took out celiac friend to dinner and she actually celebrated upon finding the extensive gluten free menu including pasta and even yummy dinner rolls! It’s the small stuff that matters. Oh did we mention they serve brunch? We will save that for another visit, which we are already looking forward to.
We would like to thank the staff at Massimo for being so incredibly welcoming during our meal. As someone with years of experience in the service industry, I can confidently say that I have experienced A+ service from the wait staff at Massimo, and outstanding accommodations from both the management and executive chef. Thank you all, we can not wait to join you for dinner (or brunch!) again, very soon.
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