Review

A Taste of Childhood

Pomodoro for the soul at an old school red sauce joint

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With its placement in a Westerly strip mall, Vetrano’s is definitely one of those “you can’t judge a book by its cover” type of restaurants. It might not look like much from the outside, but the food – the wonderful Italian food – is really the only thing that matters at Vetrano’s.

I grew up in a mostly Italian household. Every Saturday night my parents would take me with them when they went out to eat, invariably at an old- fashioned Italian restaurant where they served macaroni, not pasta. To this day, I am still in search of the flavors of my youth, whether it’s a meatball or a slice of pizza. Vetrano’s – especially its basic pomodoro sauce – comes very close to those childhood memories.

There’s a lot to consider on the menu, with entire pages devoted to pizza and pasta dishes plus chicken, veal and seafood dinners. We tried our best but could not stop eating the garlicky bread that was brought to our table, which ended up serving as our appetizer.

On our first visit to this Italian restaurant, a Sunday afternoon, we ordered two dishes that came with house salads in wooden bowls, something I have not seen in a restaurant in many years. The salad greens were a bit limp, but the creamy garlic dressing livened them up.

The true test for any classic red sauce restaurant, at least in my mind, is the Vitello alla Parmigiana ($17.95), or Veal Parmigiana. Vetrano’s gets an A+, a perfect 10, and a gold medal for their generous serving of a tender veal cutlet, breaded and pan fried, then baked with a topping of pomodoro sauce, parmesan cheese and plenty of mozzarella.

Also getting high marks was one of the seafood specialties, Linguine alla Vongole ($15.95). This was a good sized bowl of linguine pasta topped with a white clam sauce and a half-dozen cherrystone clams with their shells open and the meaty yet tender clams waiting to be tasted. Done right, this is a subtly flavored dish, one that I find myself craving every now and then.

On another night, we tried two more pasta dishes – Lasagna della Casa ($14.95) and the Italian Festival ($15.95). A man of few words when it comes to food, Brian said the lasagna “wasn’t bad” as he ate every bite of the wide pasta noodles layered with ricotta cheese and sauce. The Italian Festival gave me a little bit of everything– manicotti, cheese ravioli and stuffed shells baked with pomodoro sauce and mozzarella cheese. We knew we’d be needing a little meat with these meat-less pasta dishes so we ordered a side of meatballs ($3.95 for two large ones), which were excellent.

On another night, it was just pizza but two very different kinds. One was a White Clam ($18.50 for a large hand-tossed New York-style pizza), and the other was a Pepperoni Sicilian deep-dish pizza ($17.95). For me, the gold standard when it comes to clam pizzas is the now-famous original Frank Pepe’s in New Haven.

Vetrano’s is quite different from that coal-fired pizza, but I have to say it’s a close second with the thin, hand-stretched dough totally covered with plenty of chopped clams and just the right amount of prosciutto. This is the kind of pizza you keep eating even after you’re feeling full, just for the pure taste of the briny clams and salty prosciutto. With a glass of pinot grigio, I was a happy woman. The Sicilian pizza is a whole different animal, more than an inch thick and topped first with thinly sliced pepperoni and then a generous layer of a blend of Italian cheeses that melt to completely hide the meat toppings. With this kind of deep-dish pizza, two slices and I’m done. Now for those of you who (like me) order pizza so you can have it for breakfast the next day, the thick Sicilian pizza is pretty wonderful while the clam pizza is better off saved for a late-night snack with more of that chilled white wine.

We also can recommend Vetrano’s 12-inch house grinders ($6.95 to $8.50),especially the basic Italian submarine sandwich, a large soft roll filled with Italian cold cuts and just a little chopped tomato and slivers of dark salad greens.

That Sunday afternoon’s visit to Vetrano’s reminded me of so many Sunday afternoon dinners growing up in my mostly Italian home. At Vetrano’s, all around us were tables of families, small and large, two and three generations, dipping their bread in the olive oil, twirling the spaghetti with their forks and grabbing yet another slice of pizza. Vetrano’s is the place to go for old-fashioned, classic Italian food, a lot like mama used to make.