An exceptional Italian on the down-low
March 26, 2008 1:02:17 PM
Macera’s Soup & Sauce | 1500 Oaklawn Ave, Cranston | Tues-Sat, 11 Am-9 Pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access | 401.463.5303

Rhode Island’s restaurant scene is peppered with low-key, phenomenal Italian spots, particularly within the city of Cranston. One such hidden gem is Macera’s Soup & Sauce, tucked behind an innocuous strip mall along Oaklawn Avenue (outdated local directions may read: “In back of that little plaza next to Mustang Sally’s”). And as is the case with most longtime Italian joints with a loyal following, co-owner/chef David Macera hasn’t tinkered much with his menu in the past 15  years or so — with good reason.
The alluring aroma begins when pulling around back, as you might spot the man himself working the outdoor grill, prepping a vast assortment of fresh-grilled veggies for the night. The intimate dining room (including a great corner booth by the kitchen door) is always adorned in seasonal cheer, with knick-knacks aplenty, and an enticing fragrance that transports one back to grandma’s kitchen. 
Our trio fired away with some of the typical Rhody cravings: fried calamari, stuffies, and various takes on bruschetta, including a personal favorite, pepperoni bruschetta ($8.95). While most Italian kitchens lean on prosciutto and pancetta, Chef David opts for a serious bounty of (delicious yet sinfully salty) thick-cut pepperoni with a colorful sauté of broccoli, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, atop thick grilled Italian bread.
The piquancy provided a nice complement to the soft blackberry undertones provided by our bottle of Rock Rabbit Syrah ($20). The pair of stuffies ($3.95) had generous diced clam with a crisp oven-baked finish, but the talk of the table starting off here will always be the wonderfully crunchy, tender and delicious calamari ($7.95).
Served simply with hot pepper rings in garlic and oil, the deep-fried, yet light-as-air coating paired perfectly with the fresh squid rings, and the portion was generously sized for three. “One of the best around” is a blurb worth tossing here.

The same applies to the chicken soup (as the marquee hints, available from quart to gallon, along with the marinara), with a hearty stock sopped from the cup courtesy of Buono’s crusty bread. At this point, we were almost obligated to revisit other longtime favorites, including the clams pancetta with spinach and cannellini beans, or polenta with fresh mozzarella, but knew we had work to do with the entrees, including a list of more than two-dozen pasta specialties.
Macera’s serves lunch daily until 4 pm, with plenty of grinders and clubs (Italian tuna is perfected here) and smaller pasta plates. Our early-bird Thursday night arrival prompted our excellent and attentive waitress, Jen, to inform us the chefs were “still figuring out the specials,” which, of course, piqued curiosity as we perused the wide array of pasta dishes.
There are old world classics, like penne fagioli with diced prosciutto, cannellini beans, and celery hearts, and veal Spezzato, served in marinara with peas and mushrooms, and topped with ricotta cheese (each an absolute steal at $12.95). Other choices include chicken Macera ($14.95) with wild mushrooms over spinach fettuccine, and the aglio-inspired Megan’s Special ($12.95) with broccoli, olives, and those fire-roasted peppers.
The chicken and veal section highlights a half-dozen standard preparations, from Parmagiana and piccatta to saltimbocca and zingarella, along with an outstanding oven-baked casserole ($16.95 chicken, $18.95 veal), hot off the grill with layers of roasted eggplant, portabellas, and peppers topped with fresh mozzarella. Scrod and shrimp lead the surf options, including the noteworthy shrimp and rabe ($16.95), sautéed in garlic and oil with black olives over my favored cavatellis.
My tortured decision was resolved with the arrival of the list of specials, thanks to the shrimp and scallop aglio ($16.95) with sun-dried tomato risotto and grilled artichokes. Jackpot. Each component as divine as the next, the creamy risotto flecked with juicy red slivers was the consummate backdrop for the three jumbo shrimp and eight scallops, while the smoky slices of grilled artichoke almost stole the show.
Tom also jumped on the specials with a rib-eye pizzaiola, smothered in a homemade red sauce laden with oregano and mushrooms. While flavorful, the thick rib-eye was a tad short of the medium-well request, and the small side of green beans au gratin was an uninspired afterthought. Fiancé Tasha, who opted for the simple chicken Francaise ($14.95), was impressed with the appropriately potent zing of lemon, with more than enough chicken tenders and penne to take home.

While the desserts are not prepared in-house, they come from local legend Gregg’s Restaurants and Pubs, making for a decadent, truly Rhode Island-style finale.

Chris Conti can be reached at .


No comments yet. Be the first to start a conversation.

Login to add comments to this article


Register Now  |   Lost password






Copyright © 2008 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group