[Sidebar] December 3 - 10, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Tuscan Tavern

Serving up its own version of a happy meal

by Dawn Keable

632 Metacom Avenue, Warren, 247-9200
Open Tues-Thurs, 5-9:30 p.m.
Fri & Sat until 10:30 p.m., Sun, 2-9 p.m.
Visa and MasterCard
Sidewalk access

The golden arches of Mickey D's were our beacon that night -- as a place to turn around, that is. With the car's odometer clicking past the estimated three miles from 195, Andre, my fiance, deemed the restaurant's parking lot the ideal place to pull a "U-ey." Fortunately, we didn't need to backtrack far: the Tuscan Tavern is right next-door.

Although it was only quarter 'til 6 when we parked, it looked like we had plenty of company. The mystery was solved when we looked at the menu -- weekdays until 6, the restaurant offers an extensive "Piccolo Menu" featuring smaller portions of their regular items at a reduced price. With only minutes to go, we made our selections in a hurry.

We started with "Caserta" ($7.95). And, thankfully, Andre had not already filled up on the complimentary Italian bread and garlic butter to miss this treat. Fresh from the wood-burning oven, the bruschetta had the same type of crust as the Italian, but that's where their similarities ended. This treat was brushed with olive oil, then topped with fresh sautéed spinach, melted mozzarella, and Genoa pepperoni for a mildly spicy kick. We were charged the regular menu price for this (oops!), but it was worth it to have a third piece for leftovers.

In an attempt to satisfy his pork-chop deprivation at home, Andre went with the "Patria Pork Chop" ($8.95) as his main course. Marinated in Chianti and mixed herbs, the juicy chop was amazingly thick and full of robust grilled flavor. The meat was served with a hearty helping of buttery red bliss potatoes, which were mashed with their skins on and garnished with chopped scallion.

The vegetable of the day accompanying Andre's meal was carrot medallions served in a dill sauce. But while beautiful to the eye, the carrots should have come with a verbal advisory for those with high blood pressure. Indeed, a heavy hand with the salt made Andre drink from every beverage on the table.

My experience, on the other hand, bordered on flawless. I chose Rigatoni Sorrentino ($6.50), which was cooked to al dente perfection and tossed in a light sweet marinara sauce with chunks of sautéed eggplant, tomato, mozzarella and basil. Also, as a final touch, our waitress sprinkled freshly grated cheese on top. All in all, the smaller portion was perfect for one, and I patted myself on the back for saving room for the scrumptious desserts.

Andre ordered a slice of tiramisu ($4.50), although I'm not sure if he could completely declare ownership of it. Once I caught sight of the three-inch-high square resting on top of chocolate fudge sauce, my fork mysteriously crossed onto his side of the table. The alternating layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese were delectably light, so I could easily make a quick getaway to my watering mouth. The semi-sweet chocolate bits, dollop of cream and quartered strawberry garnish, however, were all his.

That's okay, because I had my own toppers of berries and whipped cream with the piece of pumpkin cheesecake ($4.95) I ordered. The homey dessert was incredibly rich with pumpkin taste. And the dense doughy crust was a perfect culinary match. With each bite, both elements blended into each other, blinding the line between cake and crust.

Kudos to the pastry chef. The desserts were so delicious that next time I think we should order them as a main course -- and an appetizer.

Our bellies full, Andre and I were more successful finding our way home. So remember, just a few miles from the exit ramp and don't let the yellow neon hypnotize you into a disappointing quick fix at the drive-through. Sorry, you won't find an outdoor playground here, but the Tuscan Tavern certainly offers its own definition of a happy meal.

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