This is the truest test of Rhode Island greatness: twice, in the span of three weeks, I have driven *all the way* from Providence to South County just to eat dinner at the recently opened Italian restaurant, Locanda. I’m blaming their Truffled Mushroom and Mascarpone Polenta, which calls to me like the gold calls to the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. I may have gone overboard when I promised my first born child to whomever was responsible for creating this dish, but I was joking (it’s unlikely I’ll have a first born). The food, however, is worthy of the journey along Route 1, even from the far reaches of Providence.
The first night I visited Locanda it was dark and rainy, and I would have missed the restaurant had I not fortuitously turned at the Holiday Inn (just before the “Crossing at the Tower” plaza). Only then did I see the delicate, cursive script of Locanda’s glowing sign, which ironically means “Inn” in Italian, and I realized the two are physically connected. Although the restaurant is not affiliated with the hotel, it does provide the kind of atmosphere that makes you want to settle in for the night — most notably the long, glittering bar that greets you upon entering, which has consistently been full no matter how early I’ve arrived.
The dining room is expansive and ornamented, with flower chandeliers, gilded mirrors and soft mood lighting. But there is something homey about it, too, such as the carpeting (instead of wooden floors), large oil paintings (of bowls of fruit), and mismatched chairs in seafoam blues and greens. This was intentional, according to General Manager Don Poissant. “Even though the food we serve is top notch, we wanted it to feel casual. And where do you feel most comfortable?” he asked. “Grandma’s house.”
One of my favorite features are the inlaid wall niches, each filled with unique items: wooden cooking utensils, small paintings, Italian figurines — tchotchkes, Poissant says, the trinkets and collectables you might find in your grandmother’s cabinet. From booths to bar seats to a large open kitchen, Locanda has managed to strike a perfect balance between elegant and welcoming.
The menu is designed with similar intention. For drinks, they offer expertly crafted cocktails, imported wines and a selection of draft and bottled beers, but there are also non-alcohol options, including a well-curated list of mocktails (I prefer the term “zero-proof cocktails”), perfect for the sober and the sober curious. The Nero Minded is one such mocktail, in a vibrant shade of red — with Seedlip Garden, lemon, black currant, Peychaud’s bitters — it’s floral but not too sweet, carried off by a smooth finish; it was a favorite among our table. Of the traditional cocktails, I most enjoyed the Mediterranean Mule (black fig infused vodka, elderflower, lime, ginger beer, candied ginger). This twist on a Moscow Mule transported me to a place of sunshine and Mediterranean breezes; it was simply delightful.
When dining at Locanda, you can’t go wrong with anything you order. Pastas are handmade, the ingredients are imported, and thanks to an Italian family, everything is authentically produced. The Acorn Squash Agnolotti, Crispy Sage, Parmesan, and Hazelnut-Brown Butter is worth licking your plate for in public. The Shaved Brussel Spout Salad, Candied Lemon Peel, Pecorino and Pistachio looks a bit like coleslaw but is surprising in delivery: it’s light, citrusy and sweet—a great achievement in that they’ve managed to make vegetables (Brussels sprouts, no less) taste good without frying them. The Fontina Stuffed Meatballs in Sugo are just like Grandma made them. I don’t even have an Italian grandmother, but I could conjure her just by taking a bite into this meatball filled with melted cheese. And of course, as I mentioned in the intro, the Truffled Mushroom & Mascarpone Polenta in a Mason Jar: it’s so delicious, the secret ingredient must either be truffle oil or crack. Take caution: You might be returning regularly for a fix. It’s because of this dish I now understand why some people would rather have second helpings of a savory food rather than a sweet dessert.
But transformed as I was by this knowledge, we ordered dessert — I may be enlightened, but I’m not crazy. If you’re a Fernet Branca kind of person, you’ll find a happy home here. But I’m a tiramisu person, so I gravitated toward the “Bananamisu,” with white chocolate mocha and brûlée bananas. This spin on a classic is a wonderful note to end on because it’s light and sweet. But if you want to be wowed, I also recommend the Bomboloni Di Locanda, Italian-style donuts served with Nutella. I was expecting something of a beignet or doughboy, but these were so much better! Great for sharing, and a final goodbye.
“We wanted to do something different,” Poissant explains before we leave. “You won’t find chicken Parmesan on our menu, but so far no one has complained.” And that’s because what they do, they do really well. I would recommend making a reservation at Locanda — because you’ll want to ensure your place at the inn.
3009 Towerhill Rd, Saunderstown; locandari.com and on IG @locandari; UPDATE: As of March 17, Locanda has announced that for public health reasons, it will offer takeout service only.