Dining Out

Wood-Fired Pies

The Venda empire expands with its new pizzeria

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The venerable Venda Ravioli company, which runs one of the best Italian food shops in New England and one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Costantino’s Ristorante, has reopened the corner space across from Venda Ravioli on DePasquale Plaza as Costantino’s Venda Bar and Ristorante. Venda didn’t skimp, bringing in a wood-fired oven direct from Italy. Guests sitting at the beautifully designed bar can watch pizzas being made; passersby on Atwells can also watch the pizza oven in action through a great window on the street.

Our overall experience at Venda Bar and Ristorante was very good. The bar shares the southeast corner of DePasquale Plaza with sister restaurant, Costantino’s, so you’re able to order off either the ristorante’s menu or Costantino’s menu, and that includes the long list of cocktails and wines. My wife and I split a half bottle of wine. Not enough lists in Rhode Island offer half bottles, which is a great way to get a glass-and-a-half each for around the price of two glasses, perfect for a weeknight dinner out. DePasquale Plaza is a real gem of al fresco dining, one of the few outdoor seating areas in Providence where you’re not continually exposed to traffic passing by.

The service at Venda Bar was nothing short of impeccable. Our server Clayton was outstanding. We brought our two daughters and Clayton anticipated almost all our needs, was amazingly good at memorizing very long descriptions of specials and even gave us a little trivia about the plaza just for fun. The perfect service didn’t stop with Clayton either. The bus staff was hugely attentive, topping off water, clearing plates and always being there without being noticeable. They had water in plastic cups with straws for the girls on the table when we sat, and bread on the table a moment later.

Now onto the pizza. I should mention, I love pizza. I really love pizza. I’ve flown to Phoenix, Arizona for less than 24 hours just to have pizza. I’ve eaten pizza in Italy and at restaurants in the States that are considered to have some of the best in the country. I’ve also had the great fortune to make pizzas in a wood-fired oven with one of the best bakers in the world.

This is to show you where I’m coming from when I say I really think Venda could have done a better job with our pizza, especially given the setup. With an oven as well-fired as the one in place, a beautiful pizza pie can be made – especially given the quality of topping ingredients that Venda Ravioli can acquire. On another night I think I could have been very impressed by Venda’s pizza.

While Venda makes a few Pizza Bianches (commonly referred to as ‘white pizza’), we ordered two of the Pizza Rosses – pizza with tomato sauce. One was the D.O.P. ($16), which was topped with San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, basil and parmigiano-reggiano. The other pizza we ordered was the Diavola ($13), which had San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella, basil and salami Napoli. As I expected, the toppings on both were excellent. Their tomatoes were very flavorful plums, the buffalo mozzarella was very creamy and delicious, and I loved the salty cured salami.

The trouble I had with the pizzas came from the execution. These pizzas were not cooked the way they could have been cooked in a blazing hot oven with a wood-fire inside it. They were tasty and flavorful, but underbaked and a bit soggy.

On a more positive note, whoever was running the fryer turned out some very delicious fried dough. We ordered the Calde Calde dessert ($9), which is fried pizza dough topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with Nutella. Wow, that was a perfect platter of delights to close a meal. The whole family happily devoured it all.