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A solid Italian-American trattoria with dynamite pizza
By MC SLIM JB  |  December 2, 2009

Photo:  Nellie Sweet

Fiorella's | 187 North Street, Newtonville | Monday–Thursday, 11:30 am–9 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 am–10 pm, and Sunday, 4:30 pm–9 pm | 617.969.9990

Friends are always asking me for my latest cheap-eats "discovery." But amid a million food blogs, 24/7 food television, and amateur-review Web sites like Chowhound and Yelp, I'm rarely the first to sing a good restaurant's praises. Yet many a worthy eatery still eludes the wider restaurant-going population because it serves an off-the-radar neighborhood. Such is Fiorella's, located in a quiet stretch of Newton I'd never driven through, a plain-Jane exterior amid industrial storefronts. Inside, though, is an inviting little trattoria, 75 seats clustered around an open kitchen with a blazing wood-burning brick oven, serving heaping plates of red-sauce Italian-American.

Complimentary bread sticks are a good omen: sliced flatbread seasoned with garlic, oregano, and Parmesan, served warm from the oven with smooth, slightly sweet marinara for dipping, an excellent sauce that is ubiquitous here. Arancini ($7) is one grapefruit-size ball of gently crisped Carnaroli rice with a coating of that marinara and a lot of melty mozzarella inside: humble and satisfying. An antipasto salad ($10) doesn't boast great cold cuts, but is helped by good marinated vegetables. Melanzane al forno ($8) is three slices of eggplant, batter-fried and oven-baked, made delectable with marinara, fine mozzarella, and fresh basil. Italian wedding soup ($3/cup; $5/bowl) loads chicken stock with spinach, pastini, and tiny pork/beef meatballs. The enormous pasta dishes benefit from al dente corkscrews of fresh fusilli. Bolognese ($14) is a tomato-heavy ragù hailing more from New Jersey than Bologna. Chicken parmigiana ($14) presents the expected giant cheese-laden fried breast cutlet with a huge side of sauce-drenched linguini.

While these apps and entrées are solid and value-priced, Fiorella's star attraction is its terrific wood-oven pizza ($6–$9/small; $11–$18/large). Its crust is thin — if not quite as thin as is currently voguish among gourmet purveyors — and very much in the Neapolitan style: bubbly, ever-so-slightly charred, just a bit chewy. Toppings ($1/small pizza; $2/large) are very high-quality, like excellent ricotta and prosciutto, and that red sauce is perfect on it. (That these outstanding pies aren't mentioned by more local enthusiasts reflects how hidden this place is.) The picture is completed by genial service, well-suited wines by the glass ($5–$9), and homey desserts like chocolate cobbler ($8), a gooey brownie sundae. In all, Fiorella's is exactly the sort of joint that cheap-eats aficionados love to say they knew about before the Phoenix guy found it.

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