Food Reviews

Italian Favorites Get the Rhode Island Treatment at Cucina Rustica

This Cranston restaurant is sure to have you begging for seconds


Recently, someone suggested we check out Cucina Rustica. Though I was a little skeptical of venturing into the far reaches of Cranston for Friday night dinner, this one seemed like it might have potential.

Francesca Saratapoulas and Gina Musto, who also own Narragansett’s Oceanside at the Pier, opened Cucina Rustica earlier this year. When we walked in, I felt at ease – the restaurant seemed cozy on a cool, rainy Friday night.

We started with the Cucina, described as a warm spinach salad. Ours was more of a regular baby spinach salad (fine by me) tossed with a tangy lemon vinaigrette and topped with cherry tomatoes, prosciutto and shaved Parmesan.

Sometimes I feel unworthy to judge Rhode Island pizza. As a non-native, how can I possibly assess a slice in a state that’s so opinionated about its many styles of pies? But when there’s something slightly out of the ordinary, I have to try it, especially when there’s a wood-fired oven in the house. This time it was the Clam Casino Pizza that caught my eye, with a white garlicky sauce, clams and bacon. Two additions made this pizza memorable: first, it was pleasantly spicy and second, each slice was topped with a Rhode Island littleneck in the shell. This was what I like to call Goldilocks pizza – not too thin, not too thick, with just the right dough-to-topping ratio.

A roaming guitarist set the mood by serenading tables. He carefully sized up each table and thoughtfully chose the most fitting song. Ours? “Speak Softly Love” (you may know this as the theme to The Godfather).

All the pasta on Cucina Rustica’s menu is made in house, a commitment most Federal Hill mainstays don’t even match. We shared a half-order of the Eggplant Ravioli, six large ravioli tossed with asparagus in a tomato cream sauce. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the roasted eggplant stood up to the flavorful, creamy sauce.

For my entree, I had the Osso Bucco, a tender braised veal shank served over creamy polenta. The flavor was deep and the shank was gigantic. We almost overlooked the “Rustica Favorites,” which were tucked away on the bottom of the menu, but once we saw them, my husband needed to try the Sunday Gravy. I thought my Osso Bucco was large, but this was gargantuan. A giant meatball and three types of sausage were served in a sauce rich with short ribs, with a choice of homemade pasta (he chose the rigatoni). We especially enjoyed the spicy pepperoni sausage.

It seems that executive chef Brian Nadeau has a good sense of how to play with tradition, adding some interest for the food-focused visitors without putting off traditionalists. The menu’s price point may seem high for a restaurant outside of the city, but considering the quality and portion sizes, it is more than fair. Our waitress and the rest of the staff were diligent, friendly and well versed on the menu.

You’d be surprised to hear we had room for dessert after this meal. Our secret was a massive stack of takeout boxes. For dessert, we were drawn to the White Box, an assortment of Italian pastries. These are made by the Original Italian Bakery, less than a mile away in Johnston. Our box had a small cannoli, a chocolate eclair, a raspberry danish and two sfogliatelle. The eclair tasted especially fresh. I hadn’t had sfogliatelle in a while and remembered how much I loved them. If you’re new to this treat, it’s a layered pastry – like a croissant but with the layers more distinct and crispy, this one with a ricotta filling. There was something fun about untying the long string around this box of dessert, as if we were having a giddy picnic at our table. With dessert, our waitress offered us a complimentary homemade digestif – we chose the amaretto.

Carrying our stack of boxes to the car, I felt like I had gone on a shopping spree of delicious dishes. Though it’s outside of the usual Providence radius, if you are up for a dining adventure, you should definitely check this one out.

Cucina Rustica

555 Atwood Avenue, Cranston