The Little Inn

Instant nostalgia
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 25, 2008

It was déjà vu all over again. The wilds of Johnston, the dinner-time hunger, the restaurant sign flickering on the horizon like palm trees in the desert. We mentally pumped the air simultaneously and rolled into the parking lot of the Little Inn Restaurant like it was an oasis.

The Little Inn | 401.231.0570 | 103 Putnam Pike, Johnston | Mon-Thurs, 4-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat, 4-10 pm; Sun, 11:30 am-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
As we walked toward the entrance, our previous experience at the Russo family establishment came back. The roaring fire, the first-rate service, the wine award certificates sur-rounding the signed celebrity photographs, the most impressive of which read: “To my good friend Harold. Sincerely, Frank.”

The personality as well as the hospitality of an Italian family restaurant was immediately on display: walking into a dim barroom in which longshoremen would be comfortable, I noticed a glass-enclosed case holding a collection of fancily decorated tea cups and saucers.

The main dining room is also a fusion of rugged — dark oak captains’ chairs — and delicate — numerous Tiffany-style ceiling lamps. More collectibles and antiques were stashed here and there, from milk cans to a beautiful polished copper cash register. My favorite touch of it’s-here-because-I-like-it personalization was the gilt-framed Mona Lisa reproduction.

The extensive wine list is intelligent, going for value and regional strength, rather than national bias: a dozen Chiantis from Italy, of course, but almost as many Cabernet Sauvignons from California, and Chardonnays from all over the map. The 15 wines by the glass run from $7 to $11, and my Ruffino Chianti Classico was a bargain at $7.50.

The menu declares allegiance to “Slow food, prepared and cooked to your order, very carefully!” At this place that doesn’t sound like the usual restaurant consultant boilerplate.

Even before you look at the menu, there are a couple of immediate indications that prices are being kept down: white butcher paper over the tablecloths and butter in foil. That the latter is Cabot and isn’t served rock-hard are minor considerations, but considerate nonetheless.

Looking over the appetizers, we noticed the traditionally prepared calamari that we had especially enjoyed before. There was also snail salad, a favorite of mine that’s not on every Italian restaurant menu.

But it made sense to go for what the Russos were bragging about, so Pizza della Casa ($12) it was. I don’t know about you, but while I can appreciate the culinary aesthetics of a pizza treated like a minimalist canvas — with a dollop of this here, a smear of that there — a Jersey boyhood hardwired into me the nagging suspicion, pizza-wise, that more is usually more.

If there had been more asparagus and roasted sweet red peppers, as well as Portobellos and roasted garlic, the ingredients would have spilled over the sides. The sharp provolone quickly ad-dicted my taste buds to further bites, and the potato-flour dough was flavorful. This veggie-only pizza is worth traveling out of your way for — and this recommendation comes from someone who’s been known to add sausage and meatballs to fill out pepperoni pizzas.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Beverages, Food and Cooking,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MEN AT WORK  |  April 16, 2014
    The Pulitzer Prize Board, which likes to honor theatrical gems of Americana, may have been remiss in not nominating David Rabe’s 1984 ' Hurlyburly .'
  •   SEARCHING FOR CLUES  |  April 09, 2014
    A "girl detective" makes her  world premiere.
  •   ROSE-COLORED MEMORIES  |  April 09, 2014
    Incessant media accounts of horrific events can prompt compassion fatigue.
  •   MENTAL SHRAPNEL  |  April 02, 2014
    Brave or foolhardy? The Wilbury Theatre Group is presenting Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted , a 1995 play that at the time was decried as juvenile, taken to the woodshed by critics, and flayed to shreds.
  •   A ROWDY ROMP  |  March 26, 2014
    In his time, Georges Feydeau was to theater what McDonald’s is to cuisine — cheap, easy to consume, and wildly popular.

 See all articles by: BILL RODRIGUEZ