Massimo has been making waves in the Providence restaurant scene since its opening in mid-June. While many Atwells restaurants have upheld the status quo – upscale but standard Italian fare – Massimo is bursting with creativity in its menu, interior and approach. You can tell this restaurant is different from the rest of street, even the casual and breezy name on the facade sets a fresh mood. The interior, designed by Kyla Coburn, seems simple until you notice the details. The multiplicity of funky chairs and geometric tiles would feel chaotic had they not been chosen by such an expert eye.
I was especially excited about Massimo once I realized it was the creation of Joseph and Esther DeQuattro, owners of Atwells’ Pane e Vino. My husband and I spent our first date there; young and broke, we shared a delicious bottle of Ripassa Zenato on half price wine night instead of eating. That’s a recipe for starry eyes! (Later, we’d discovered the food was great, too.) Exactly ten years later, we coincidentally walked into Massimo to find a solid lunch and dinner menu.
When we heard Massimo was starting brunch service, we were in. And what better way to brunch than in a sea of sequins at the restaurant’s first monthly drag brunch in the lofty upper level?
Massimo’s brunch menu adds several egg entrees and sweet dishes to existing lunch menu favorites. But before we get to food, let’s talk cocktails. There are nine brunch concoctions on the menu. My first was the Massimo Iced Cafe, liberally spiked with Amaretto, Galliano Ristretto (espresso liqueur) and Vecchia Romagna brandy. This smooth drink excelled both as a cocktail and as a coffee. My husband had a more traditional choice, a Bloody Mary, pleasantly heavy on the horseradish. We were amused to order it with a meat and cheese board, which came with an excellent Gorgonzola Dolce. Our friends had Bellinis with fresh peach puree and strawberry. These tasted like summer candy. Later, we enjoyed a Sgroppino, a lemon sorbet-topped Prosecco drink.
Don’t miss the Maplebrook Farm Burrata appetizer. Have you tried burrata? It’s like a ball of fresh mozzarella, except bursting with a creamy filling. This Vermont cheese was served with halved cherry tomatoes, sweet corn minestra (a creamy corn soup which read more like a thick sauce) and crispy speck. It’s difficult to remain civil when dividing an oozy burrata in four, but we managed.
For my entree, I fought off the allure of a Pork Belly Benedict with orange hollandaise and chose the Fettucine alla Carbonara, already a star of the dinner menu. This dish takes comfort food to another level: I simultaneously felt like I never got out of bed and needed to go back to bed. The rich pasta dish was studded with hunks of Guanciale, a specialty cured cheek meat. It’s easy to see why this is a favorite. My husband had the Short Rib Hash with fried eggs and toasted bread. It was satisfying, though somewhat unadventurous compared to our other dishes (to some, this would be a plus).
One friend had an indulgent vegetarian choice, the Crostata, a savory hand-formed tart with asparagus, mushrooms, Crucolo cheese and a poached egg. He noted that the bottom of the crust was slightly thick, but the flavor was spot on. His husband had the Ricotta Pancakes. I usually don’t order pancakes at brunch – they are so easy to make at home – but I’ll definitely order these next time. The pancakes were rich, as if each bite were stuffed with ricotta, though it was just mixed into the batter. And the toppings! A blueberry agradolce, a sweet and sour sauce sometimes made with vinegar (like the shrub of the dessert sauce world) set off the earthy, bold and smooth walnut butter. The peril of ordering a sweet brunch dish alone is that the rest of your table will finish off your dish as if it’s their personal dessert. Luckily, our friend indulged us.
With food this creative, it took a compelling performance to distract us from our plates. This first drag brunch installment was hosted by the lovely Jennie Talia (don’t read that aloud if you’re in public) joined by Viza D. Klein and Ninny Nothin. The entire room was in stitches while the upstairs bar kept the crowd well lubricated.
134 Atwells Avenue