Homestyle Italian found in North Providence
by Dawn Keable
16 Josephine Street, North Providence, 722-5599
Open Tues-Sat, 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
It was a coupon from the Valu-Pac addressed to "Occupant" that first piqued our
interest: Dinner for two for $19.95 -- even including a bottle of wine (Hey,
when you're planning a wedding, every penny counts). After reading the fine
print (offer good Tuesday-Thursday only), my fiance Andre and I headed off to
North Providence on a Wednesday night for some authentic Italian cooking.
Luckily, the small scrap of paper also included directions, although we
cruised right by Il Fornello a couple of times before we saw the sign -- a big
one, too. But I don't think our eyesight is failing. The restaurant simply
blends into the surrounding residential neighborhood with its unassuming brick
building. This practical feel carried into the interior as well, with a simple
theme: black lacquer chairs, white tablecloths, black ceiling, white walls, and
black and white photos.
Apparently not everyone has as tough a time finding the place as we did. This
joint was jumping. The true activity level of the restaurant became apparent
when we were seated right in front of the swinging door to the kitchen. The
staff was definitely hustling, which, in turn, made us feel like we were in the
middle of some sort of emergency. Thankfully, after we moved to another spot,
against the wall, a serene feeling prevailed and we were able to get down to
Offering a full menu in addition to the dinner special, Il Fornello has an
incredible number of dishes, including appetizers. We choose "funghi ripieni"
($7.95) as a starter. Stuffed with a delicious mixture of crabmeat and Ritz
crackers, the five mushroom caps were firm and full of flavor.
We decided to stick with the original coupon plan, especially after seeing the
impressive number of dishes we could choose from. There were over ten, ranging
from pasta to chicken and fish; much more exciting than the shells and sauce
meal we originally anticipated. And of course, there was the free wine -- a
bottle of Delicato Chardonnay for us. We would have preferred it more chilled,
but the ice cubes in our water glasses were easily transferable to the wine
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that even more than wine and crusty
Italian bread was included in the valu-meal. Our dinners were prefaced with a
small salad of fresh, crispy mesclun greens, red onions and a cherry tomato,
all tossed with the house balsamic vinegar dressing, which definitely had a bit
of a kick (A polite way of saying that there was a touch too much vinegar in
For his main course, Andre ordered polla alla marsala. Sauteed with mushrooms
and marsala wine, the lean chicken breast had a distinctively homemade taste.
The meal was accompanied by slices of summer squash, marinated in a wine sauce
for a melt-in-your-mouth experience. And the red bliss potatoes, mashed with
their skins on and seasoned with a hint of garlic, added to the delectable
homestyle appeal of the dinner.
I opted for the pasta route with penne ala vodka. My heaping plateful of
penne, cooked to a perfect al dente fashion, was tossed with bits of tomato and
fresh basil in a pink cream sauce and finished with vodka and Parmesan cheese.
The creamy sauce was so refreshingly light that I was able to fit almost 10
"just one more bites" in my already overfilled stomach.
By this time, we were so stuffed that we took dessert for the road. Andre
selected a piece, no make that a sliver, of turtle cheesecake ($4.95). But he
should have tasted it before complaining about the size. The creamy layer of
cheesecake with a chocolate crust was sweet and smooth. And topped with chopped
walnuts, dark chocolate mini chips and caramel, the cake's ratio of richness to
portion was perfect.
I picked the Oreo cheesecake ($4.95), and, for the first time, had cheesecake
served in a bowl. This dessert was without crust; the Oreo cookies were mixed
in with the fluffy, light cheesecake like cookies and cream ice cream. Yet the
high number of cookie pieces made up for the absence of the traditional
We learned much from our dining experience at Il Fornello: the natives know
the best places to eat; finding restaurants off the beaten track is worth the
search; and, most importantly, never toss a Valu-Pac in the trash. You never
know what you'll find inside.