Chef Interview

A Taste of Southern Italy in East Greenwich

Using locally-sourced ingredients La Masseria still honors its Italian roots

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La Masseria in East Greenwich is named after the fortified old farmhouses of Southern Italy. Everything from the name, the exposed wood in the interior, the wine on display, the chef and, most crucially, the menu is built around the rich tradition of Puglian cuisine. No surprise then that my conversation with General Manager Andrea Minopoli was unmistakably Italian in character as well. Though his accent made the food sound even more appealing, I suspect it didn’t need much help. As connected to our local farmers as it is to its own culinary traditions, La Masseria has an authentic claim on the name.

There are two La Masserias, one in Midtown Manhattan and the other in East Greenwich. These locations are just a bit different. What’s the story there?
The major owner of the restaurant is from Rhode Island and he used to go to Capri on vacation. [There], he met this guy by the name of Peppe and they became friends and decided to open a place in New York called La Masseria in 2005, and that was the beginning. Because he was from Rhode Island, we decided to open up one in East Greenwich in 2009, too.

How did you end up in Rhode Island?
I was a manager at La Masseria in New York, and I moved here because of the restaurant in 2009. Plus, my life changed in New York when I met a beautiful lady and decided to get married at the age of 50. That was a better way for me to raise a family, in Rhode Island rather than New York.

The restaurant identifies as Puglian specifically, rather than just the generic Italian. How does it differ?
When people say “an Italian restaurant” it doesn’t really tell you what specialty. Italian food varies so much, and if you really want to cover Italian food, you need five restaurants to do that. We are an Italian restaurant with a mostly southern Italian influence. We have meat, fish, pasta and all kinds of food to please everybody’s palate.

What are some Puglian specialities?
We have Baby Octopus with cuttlefish and broccoli rabe (that’s very Pugliese), Orecchiette with broccoli and sausage, Linguini with Clams in a white clam sauce, Branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass from the coast of Puglia, and then we come up with specials.

If La Masseria alludes to the stores on a farm, what are your connections to our local farmers?

I buy most of it local, like the clams, oysters, lobster and vegetables. I have a good connection with the farmer’s market here in Goddard Park, where I [get] most of my fresh vegetables through the summer, mostly zucchini, zucchini flowers, peppers, potatoes, red beets, heirloom tomatoes and plum tomatoes.

A lot of people speak highly of the desserts at La Masseria. What are some favorites?
We do our own desserts, and our number one is the Ricotta Cheesecake. We also have all kinds of flavors of tiramisu, like Nutella, lemon, orange, pineapple and the regular espresso tiramisu. Lately we’ve been making a Pistachio Nut Tartufo, which we’ve been selling a lot of.

Is there a dish you are particularly excited about?
We have homemade ravioli, three per order, filled with egg, ricotta cheese and fresh herbs with truffle sauce. Once you put the knife and the fork in, the egg goes all over your plate.

Tell me about the approach with the wine list?

We sell a little bit of everything, but we mostly have wine from all over Italy and a little bit from California. There are about 250 wines on our wine list, and a few off the list. We are offering 25% off any bottle of wine Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, and we are more than happy to offer anyone 25% off any bottle of wine.

La Masseria
223 Main Street, East Greenwich
398-0693