No, Federal Hill Pizza was not driven into Warren exile by the envy of its Italian restaurant competitors on Providence's Federal Hill. But it's easy to see how such a rumor might get started when you start sampling the menu, especially when you get to its namesake red sauce-and-mozzarella-bedecked namesake.
But how could it be otherwise? Just a glance at all those group photos in the front windows tell you that violations of family recipe authenticity would be a violation of heritage as well as a culinary offense.
So you tend to listen carefully to the place's origin story. William Manzo Jr. used to have a cigar lounge on Atwells Avenue in Providence, the neighborhood known as Federal Hill. As a little sideline, he began selling pizzas out of the back, Neapolitan pizzas that caught on so well that before long he was wholesaling dough and pizza shells to more than 200 supermarkets in Rhode Island and adjoining states.
Jump ahead to 2010 and Federal Hill Brick Oven Pizza is born on Main Street in Warren. Nice digs. Traditional red-and-white checked tablecloths, a dozen beer taps for washing down a slice with your favorite brew, and bottles of harder stuff nearby. The odds and ends on the walls couldn't be more eclectic, from pizza paddles and a Coca-Cola baseball scoreboard to a Mona Lisa reproduction — painting, not poster — and plenty more family photos.
A big white marker board tempted us with specials in every category, but the foldout paper menu offers plenty to choose from. The many pizzas were interesting but we decided to have one of those to go, so we turned our attention elsewhere. One category is "Burgers/Sandwiches," but the latter consists only of the BBQ chicken sandwich and a grilled chicken wrap, each $9.99, so you can tell their heart is with the dozen-plus half-pound burgers. Priced from $8.99 to $12.75, there's quite an imaginative variety. The intriugingly named Good Morning Vietnam burger is topped with an over-easy egg; the '62 Cadillac Burger has cheddar from Michigan; the Tuscan burger is on kitchen-made focaccia, sparked up with balsamic vinegar, and is served with truffle fries.
Maybe we'll come back for lunch and try one. But this was dinnertime, so we were going to share an appetizer, salad, and pasta.
First we decided on what pizza we would be taking with us. They are available gluten-free and range from one called "The Way It Should Be," with pepperoni, mushrooms, extra mozzarella, and drizzled with truffle oil, to the "Aloha," with grilled pineapple. Except for the buffalo chicken offering, they all feature fresh mozzarella, in the Neapolitan tradition. We went for "The Owner's Favorite" ($14.50, $17.50, and $19.15 for 12", 16", and square). It features prosciutto, mushrooms, goat cheese, and shreds of basil, and is (mmm, munching it now) tangy from the balanced red sauce and chewy from the just-right brick-oven crust.
They were out of iceberg lettuce, so the Dean Street salad had Romaine instead with its roasted red peppers and tiny slices of provolone instead of the described cubes. Plentiful but disappointing.
For the appetizer, the deep-fried Sicilian meatballs ($8.50) with northern Italian pink sauce sounded interesting, but we went for the Sicilian rice balls ($8). Wonderful. Four of them, fried crisp, the rice accompanied by mozzarella and bits of pancetta, and plenty of that zippy marinara.