I suppose there are braver things to do. Perhaps charging a machine gun nest or serving a loosely wrapped braciole to a Sicilian grandmother. But open yet another Italian restaurant on Federal Hill, as Café Longo did in spring of 2009, sounds like diving off a cliff.
Chef Jerry Longo has his mother, Liliana, there to keep him honest, and she is especially qualified since he is using her recipes. There are also other relatives working here, from a couple of cousins, Anthony and Luigi, to his sister Carmela, who was eating there on her night off when we visited. I didn't notice her taking notes, but she might well have been.
Cafe Longo | 401.228.6550 |154 Atwells Ave, Providence | Sun-Thurs, 4-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 4-11 pm [Closed on Sunday + Monday in November] | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar
The place isn't big, seating maybe three dozen on a busy nnight if people keep their elbows tucked in and five sit at the bar. Another dozen can sit out front here in good weather, a block away from De Pasquale Square. The interior is pleasantly informal: black napkins on taupe tablecloths, stone tile floor, a specials blackboard on a raw brick column.
Our evening started out promisingly, with a prompt basket of excellent Italian bread, from nearby Venda Ravioli. It came with a saucer of olive oil, not butter, sporting a decorative slice of fried garlic. A biopic about John Gotti was on the flatscreen, and Louis Prima was oh-ing about Marie through the speakers.
This place is sincerely about food. Bartender Jay was treating a couple of regulars to a pappardelle and sautéed endives dish he'd made at home.
Life was good, and getting better.
The wine list of nearly three dozen selections has an ample sampling by the glass. That includes two Chiantis, with the lower priced Monrosso ($8.50) being good choice, I found, not too tannic.
As makes best sense with a medium-sized place, the menu size corresponds. There are only a half-dozen appetizers on the menu, none of them polenta. There is an obligation around here at Italian restaurants, and many non-Italian, to have the traditional Rhode Island preparation of calamari, with hot pepper rings or pepperoncini. They serve it that way here, but also the way we chose: tossed with roasted red and green peppers and San Marzano tomato sauce ($12), drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The tender, fried squid stayed crisp a while under the light coating and remained delicious even longer.
We were also pleased with a family specialty, supli ($9), for a second appetizer. The shape and size of small eggs, the two golden fried portions of arborio rice, pink from tomato sauce, each contained a small piece of melted mozzarella. It was served on what amounted to a small mesclun salad.
The two slices of complementary pizza we were brought while we were waiting had the tastiest thin crust I'd enjoyed in a long time. Good news: Jerry is opening a pizzeria next door in a week or two, so you can see what I mean.
There are only eight "Specialty Macaroni" and seven entrées, billed as "House Favorites." Three chicken dishes, three veal, and lobster Francese.