Locale Profile: Federal Hill Pizza Opens in Providence
“Have you been to Federal Hill Pizza in Warren?” my friend Rob asked me as we drove to dinner on the opening week of its Providence location. The restaurant was so new to the city that Google Maps could not find it; we had to consult the insiders of Yelp.
“Yes!” I said. “It’s been a while, but it was great.”
“Okay, so you know the space, how it’s small and intimate, and how the restaurant is wedged between — I don’t know — a coffee shop and a shoe store?”
“Well, this is the opposite of that.”
Imagine the biggest building on a street, one that takes up an entire block, with a multistory façade that demands attention. That is the new Federal Hill Pizza in Providence. Moving into the space that was formerly the iconic one-stage theater known as Castle Theater, in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Providence, owner William (Billy) Manzo, Jr. and his wife Christine have transformed this space into an anything-you-desire food stop: breakfast in the café, pizza and pasta dinner at the restaurant, and drinks from the full-service bar at night. It’s not an exaggeration to say I felt my jaw drop when we drove past the entrance, understanding that Rob had not been lying about the vastness of this new location.
Despite its relatively hushed opening, there were still people to be found in every room. We were given a brief tour of the restaurant in order to choose which dining area suited our needs. To the right, we found ourselves in a giant room facing a white projector screen and a black stage. We could see above us the place where the person who manned film for the old theater used to sit. Now, the stage will be used to host live musicians, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the projector screen will be used for entertainment as well. This space is great for families and groups, a more “casual” dining space, which had the feeling of an outdoor picnic brought indoors. My favorite finishing touch was the string of lights zig-zagging over the tables, reminding me of restaurant alleyways in foreign cities. “Would you like to see the bar?” the hostess asked us.
“Absolutely,” we said.
Back out and around to the left side of the building was the second dining area, more intimate than the previous room, but still large and industrial. (I’ve described it as a love child between Pizza J and Ogie’s Trailer Park.) Wooden benches lined the brick walls, and black and white posters of Lucy and Ricardo gave me flashbacks from my “Nick at Night” days. The bar was surrounded with bright red chairs, and neon signs declared “Federal Hill Pizza Company.” Patrons could watch sports on any of the three TVs mounted on the wall.
And at the far end of this room was another form of entertainment: two ovens shipped from Napoli where the pizzas came out. We decided to sit in view of the ovens, both for admiration and warmth purposes (cavernous spaces tend to be on the chillier side).
The menu sported a long list of beers on tap, wine, cocktails and specialty drinks, and I was nearly sold on the sangria until I saw a good old-fashioned Italian soda. My inner child had to have a strawberry Italian soda — Rob went with chocolate (which he described as a carbonated Yoo-hoo) — and we exhibited self-control by not guzzling them in five seconds.
The appetizer list ran long, with a significant amount of fried options (fried ravioli to deep fried Sicilian meatballs), but we opted for one of the salads: the Mediterranean, with tomatoes, feta, and kalamata olives. The salads came in “half” and “full” sizes; we got the half, and it was plenty big enough for two people to share. It was a little underwhelming as far as salads go — a plate of mixed greens with toppings on the side, but we had set our sights instead to the pizza.
I learned in Italy that the best way to judge a pizza place is by the most basic pizza — the margherita — and if they do that well, they are a trustworthy location. So, we ordered a 12” margherita pizza and a 12” specialty pizza, the Buffalo chicken. (They make their own Buffalo sauce, and this is both Rob’s and my weakness.)
The result? Picture perfect margherita, with big round slices of mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and bright green strips of basil. Drizzled on top was a Tuscan olive oil that was so delizioso I didn’t let any of it go to waste — sopping up any traces with leftover crust. Speaking of which: The pizza crust itself is phenomenal. Billy, a purported winner of crust contests, has perfected the art. (Side note: There’s no sugar in the dough, and they offer gluten-free options for 12” pizzas.) The Buffalo chicken came out looking like a Picasso painting, bright orange and white streaks across a beautifully cheesy background, and I loved the spiciness of the sauce. Rob was hoping there would have been more chicken in every bite — it was a little scarce on the protein — but the flavor profile hit its mark.
A performance such as this, right out of the gate, sets a high standard for what to expect from this new location. We finished the evening with Nutella Dough Balls, enough to feed an army, and just like the experience itself, we ended on a sweet note. This may be the first time, but certainly not the last, you’ll be hearing about this Italian gem.
Federal Hill Pizza, 1039 Chalkstone Ave, PVD