“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Papa Hemingway was known for his zeal when it came to wine and all other manner of alcohol; I was reminded of this as I perused the menus at my new favorite place on Federal Hill: Massimo.
Billed as “new world Italian with local flavor,” Massimo opened this summer in a heavily renovated space that once housed Mediterraneo. Having shut its doors in November of last year, Mediterraneo was not only a favorite date night my spouse and me, it was a popular location for celebrities who traveled to The Hill, former mayor Buddy Cianci included. We were fond of brandishing Groupons to cut the cost just a bit, and especially with the homemade limoncello offered at the conclusion of the meal, it offered a pleasant evening out, one that a great number of diners enjoyed since its opening in 1997.
The bright blues and yellows that once inched toward gaudiness have been completely rehabbed into the classy, chic locale known as Massimo. Joseph and Esther DeQuattro, owners of Pane e Vino just up the street, acquired the location to produce a dining experience markedly different from Pane e Vino, which serves up southern Italian cuisine. By utilizing locally sourced ingredients and contemporary recipes from all over Italy, Massimo was curated with a vibe that strikes a markedly different chord than the family recipes at Pane e Vino.
We opted to dine at Massimo on a gorgeous Thursday evening in June, just past 7pm. Although the restaurant was very busy, we were seated almost immediately. They have those large, foldable windows that basically transform the restaurant into an extended al fresco dining space. We sat at a sidewalk table within sight of the Fed Hill pineapple and almost immediately were served some focaccia and Italian loaf, sliced and served with a spiced and herbed whipped butter that had a vaguely green tint to it. I could have subsisted on that butter alone!
The menu is rife with pleasing fonts, and in the wine menu there are Hemingway quotes (featured above); one from A Moveable Feast, but also some words from from Pablo Naruda. The wine list is wide and varied, as is the cocktail menu.
I’ve been on a real mezcal tear lately (short description: the crossbreed of scotch and tequila), so I opted for what amounted to a compromise between a margarita and an old fashioned; it was sublime. My spouse ordered a blood orange martini, a drink with a color closer to traditional orange juice, but that did indeed have quite a nice bite to it. You can tell that Massimo has a mindful and creative bartender; the individual ingredients blend really well to create an all-around interesting taste.
Because I am about as basic as they come, I ordered the calamari fritti to start, which was served with sun-dried tomatoes, pickled sweet cherry peppers, arugula and a spicy lemon aioli. It was a refreshing alternative to the typical serving of fried calamari, and I would definitely have it again.
My date ordered the arugula salad, which came with prosciutto di darma, shaved grana padano, red onions and lemon vinaigrette, she got an order of seared scallops on top, and wow! Each was larger than a baby’s fist.
I was initially conflicted about my order; I tend to not eat much pasta because carbs are the devil, but the rigatoni con pollo was calling me with its simple but decadent mix of the grilled chicken, san marzano pink sauce and shaved grana padano atop al dente rigatoni. My biggest beef with ordering pasta in most restaurants are the gargantuan portions, but when I received my rigatoni it was on a perfectly portioned plate. If it hadn’t been for the gorging on the delicious bread with that whipped butter and the calamari, it would have been the most precise meal I’ve ever had.
Though we barely scratched the surface of Massimo, the two-story dining establishment also offers a pub menu open late with items like burgers and pizzettes. All in all, Massimo offers a solid dining experience that lives up to the long-established RI standards its predecessor was known for.