Every now and then, we feature a restaurant outside of the Boston area because of its exceptional food, unique atmosphere, quirky overall feel, or simply the fact that it is more "hidden" than most little-known spots. And then there is L'Antica Trattoria. Among all of the places in New England that we have looked at over the years, this place on the outer edge of Providence may take the cake as the most unusual dining spot we have been to, with the excellent food, friendly service, decent prices, and relatively easy parking all adding to the unforgettable experience here.
L'Antica Trattoria is one of those places that you would never find unless you knew someone who knew of the restaurant (which is how we found it, by the way). It is located on a narrow side street in an otherwise residential neighborhood in the Silver Lake section of Providence, which is in the city's extreme southwest corner. And here is the kicker--the restaurant happens to be located inside of a still-operating Italian social club that has been around for more than 100 years. Various parties and events are held in the basement of the structure, whose only real hint as to the dining spot being inside is lettering above the front door stating "L'Antica Trattoria at St. Bart's Club" (though the decidedly non-commercial look of the place may have some believe that the trattoria itself is perhaps a private spot). The ground floor is where the dining room can be found, and the space is beautiful, with earthy pastel colors throughout, wine bottles atop the ceiling beams, warm lighting, and a statue (surrounded by Roman columns) smack dab in the middle of the space.
The food served at L'Antica Trattoria is real-deal Italian, with scratch-made items leaning more toward Southern Italian (think Naples) comfort food dishes. A couple of wonderful antipasti choices are offered as starters, with "Rino's" antipasto including house-made dried pork loin (which is only made during the colder months) pickled eggplant, and sopressata, while the antipasto Italiano contains some terrific sharp provolone along with prosciutto, salame, a particularly tasty pepperoni, and lots of olives. Bruschetta that includes fresh mozzarella and tomatoes is also available to start, as well as fried calamari (a popular dish in Rhode Island), a house-made marinated snail salad, and a nicely put-together Caesar salad with more olives and a good helping of croutons. Meals at L'Antica Trattoria include some familiar chicken, veal, seafood, and pasta items, with the veal parmigiana having a slightly sweet and rich-tasting tomato sauce and meat so tender that you can cut it with a fork. The house-made sausage with sauteed mushrooms is another winner, with the dish including an equally delicious marinara sauce and sausage that is flavored with fennel and coriander. Among the pasta plates, the humble spaghetti dish is actually a highlight here, with the fresh pasta (which is served in a giant bowl) having a slightly rough texture that holds onto the sauce perfectly. Seafood lovers may want to opt for the spaghetti alle vongole, which includes baby clams, while fans of eggplant may want to try the rollatini di melanzana, which has eggplant stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella and topped with a mild provolone and tomato sauce. A few beers (and a decent number of wines) are offered at L'Antica Trattoria, and for those who are able to find room at the end of the meal, desserts such as a zingy orange ripieno (which is served in a hollowed-out orange) and a sweet and savory chocolate pyramid are just two of several options. Prices here are generally a good amount less than dining spots on Federal Hill (Providence's Little Italy), with many items being on either side of $10.
The concept of a dining spot being inside of an Italian social club may not have been unique decades ago in cities such as Boston and Providence, but it definitely is unusual these days, which makes L'Antica Trattoria a true destination spot not only for folks in and around Providence, but also for Italian food lovers in the Boston area. If you like the sense of discovering old-fashioned neighborhood eateries that no one else seems to know about, this place within the St. Bart's social club is a must.
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