BILL OF FARE
A dinner for two might look something like this, but note that the menu was updated after my visit.
Glass of sangria: $9.00
Switchback Ale: $5.50
Veal Saltimbocca: $22.95
Frutti di Mare: $24.95
2 sides pasta: $3.90
2 cappuccinos: $8
JOHNSTON, R.I. — If you haven’t been to Pat’s Italian Restaurant in a while, you haven’t been to Pat’s.
Before a visit last month, I hadn’t been to Pat’s since the Boston Red Sox were down three games to the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. I was there the Saturday night the Sox lost, 19-8. For that dinner at Pat’s, I dined by a faux fireplace, found that the kitchen was out of the homemade pasta I craved and was operating so slowly I thought we’d never get our dinner.
Fast-forward to new owners, a huge remodel and a kitchen that runs like clockwork.
This time I’ll remember a delicious dinner and an experience that couldn’t have been nicer. The ease with which one can dine here begins even before you step inside the door. You can reserve online at their website via TableUp. My reservation was not only confirmed with an email, but I had a reminder sent the day of my visit and a thank-you email afterward. I found it just right without being too fussy.
It’s just one of the innovations brought by first-time restaurant owners Greg and Chris Stevens, who purchased the restaurant in 2007. The Attleboro couple has since opened Frankie’s Italian Bistro in Wickford (four months ago) and in April will introduce The Uptown Burger Bar at South County Commons in South Kingstown.
They kept the soups and sauce recipes when they purchased the Johnston restaurant from Pat Orlando, who had a legendary career running several restaurants, including Pat Orlando’s.
But the Stevenses have made Pat’s their own, adding to the menu and introducing new things. Those included a stellar fig and prosciutto flatbread pizza and a seafood risotto that I’m sorry to say is not on the current menu. Stevens said it will probably be back.
That was just one of several dishes which were satisfying in both taste and portion. “Nobody leaves here hungry,” is the restaurant motto and it is truth in advertising. This is one of only a handful of restaurants for which I won’t recommend a dessert. There is no point. Even if you don’t finish all the food on your plate, once you enjoy the appetizers, and you must, and the entrees, you will not desire a sweet. And that is just fine.
Start with the flatbread because it’s a delight of flavors, including the the thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma offering a little salty flavor in contrast to the sweetness from the caramelized onions and fig jam sauce. The cheese blend with Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano and mozzarella evokes an almost smoky flavor. The crowning touch is a palate-cleansing drizzle of fig balsamic reduction. Even one slice of the $12.95 pie satisfies because you don’t want to fill up on it.
That’s because you’ll want to enjoy a bite of arancini. This fried ball of risotto is crunchy and creamy at the same time. But then dip it into the bright marinara sauce and you have a bite of heaven. I liked that it was vegetarian. Some arancini has ground beef in it, and that is a whole meal not needed in an appetizer.
By now, you’ll have been served some bread, and if you ordered an entree, your soup or salad will be on its way. (I preferred the salad to the day’s soup which was the only dish I found salty.) What once was the norm is rarer to find today. That is pasta dishes come with soup or salad and entrées are served with soup or salad and choice of pasta, potato and vegetable.
The homemade pasta adds an additional charge of $1.95. Spend the money. It’s wonderful, especially the radiatore, pasta shaped like half a corkscrew, though some say it’s meant to resemble a radiator grille. The ridges give it plenty of places to catch sauce.
It’s a wonderful pairing with the Frutti di Mare, which is a loaded bowl of calamari, scallops and shrimp that can be ordered spicy, fra diavolo. The seafood was tender and tasty.
Even better was the mix of the Pasta Miscuglio, which was tossed with radiatore, sea scallops, shrimp, baby spinach and wild mushrooms and served in a spicy pink sauce.
The meat is tender in the Veal Saltimbocca. The veal is pounded thin and cooked with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella in a sweet mushroom and marsala sauce.
The portion for the Veal Sorrento, also offered with chicken, is huge. It starts with veal cutlets, breaded and layered with ricotta, eggplant and mozzarella. No way anyone finishes it.
Pat’s offers the dish, and chicken parmigiana, made with gluten-free breadcrumbs, said Stevens.
The drinks list includes a lovely sangria and an expanded wine list that features a Riesling from Washington state, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Prosecco. The draft beer list includes the excellent Vermont Switchback Ale, a nice addition to the market.
That faux fireplace has been replaced with an elegant gas one. In the dining room, photos of Italy keep you centered geographically, but in the bar, the theme is Marilyn Monroe. The large bar is the signature of the lounge and looks to be a nice space for a more casual atmosphere. The seating in either room is comfortable, and there’s a great booth for six that offers almost private dining by the kitchen.
Service was attentive and the timing for the meal couldn’t have been arranged better. There were no lags, nor were we rushed.
From the Frank Sinatra music to the classic dishes to the thank-you-for-dining email, I like the new Pat’s very much.
Pat’s Italian, 1200 Hartford Ave., Johnston, (401) 273-1444, patsitalian.com. Parking lot. Reservations. Serving dinner Tuesday to Saturday 4 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 4 to 8 p.m.
On Twitter: @gailciampa