Hammetts Hotel is Newport’s newest addition to the sophisticated scads of lodgings that dot Downtown’s fashionable thoroughfares. After a grand opening in spring 2020, they’ve been going strong throughout the summer, even with the shadow of COVID-19 looming over the hospitality industry. Hammetts may have a fabulous patio complete with millennial-friendly twinkle lights and stunning views of sunset over the harbor, but what sets this boutique jewel box apart from their illustrious neighbors is, in a word, Giusto!
While the average person may not have come across the word “Giusto” since suffering through Italian arias in high school chorus (the word is commonly found in tempo markings to denote exactness to the melody), you’ll want to revamp your thinking right away when you step inside this culinary wonderland. “Giusto” translates to “just right,” and you’ll be feeling that way throughout your entire experience at this lively and lovely eatery.
From the minute you enter, you’ll be blown away by the unique and quirky details in the form of a bright orange and white color palette with a handsome wood finish, and the fantastically weird and wonderful octopus wallpaper, which provides a great backdrop for the many Instagram shots to take of your meal. The one-of-a-kind nature of the decor goes hand in hand with Giusto’s menu, which is some of the most inventive Italian cuisine I’ve encountered in Rhode Island and beyond! Red sauce purists, take note: This is NOT your grandma’s spaghetti and meatballs, red checkered tablecloth, Lady and the Tramp style joint. Head chef Kevin O’Donnell gleefully bucks tradition with his “Freestyle Italian” menu, which gives him the opportunity to offer a dining experience that doesn’t compare to anything else in Newport. True, O’Donnell uses fresh and local ingredients and the wine list is purely classical Italian, but the tradition stops there. Instead, dig into offerings like Italian Street Corn, a beautiful marriage between Mediterranean flavors and a Mexican restaurant staple, Malfadine pasta prepared in the style of a green bean casserole, and even an out-of-the-box dessert, the Torta Caprese, which gets its decadent density from – you guessed it – tomatoes! Come here with an open mind and an empty stomach, and you surely won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of empty stomachs, you’ll want to order an appetizer right when you sit down! It’s hard to contain the excitement when there’s such delish options, like the Scotch Meatball, a sizable homemade meatball stuffed with a perfectly poached egg, and Fontina en Carozza, a next-level take on mozzarella sticks with a cheese pull that’ll get you TikTok famous with one simple video! However, the crowning glory of the snack menu are the Frittelle, which are heavenly fried blobs of ricotta and honey smothered goodness. At five bucks a pop for an order of three, it’s hard to stop yourself from ordering tons of ‘em! They are addictive and insanely good!
Of course, if you want to indulge like a true Italian, a pasta course is a must! While all of their noodle creations are made fresh in house, the Ricotta Love Letters are the ideal comfort on a cold Newport night. Picture perfectly al dente pasta wrapped gently around soft and fluffy ricotta cheese tossed in a delicate balsamic and fig sauce. It may sound strange on paper, but it’s a must-try item for sure. O’Donnell is particularly adept at marrying sweet and savory flavors to magnificent effect, and no dish on his menu does it better than these.
Still got room for more? The entrees offered at Giusto are just as much a treat for the tummy as they are for the eyes. Beautifully plated striped bass showcases fresh-caught tender white fish direct from the sea just outside your table, and meat eaters will die of happiness when they gaze upon the wonder that is the slow braised Heritage Pork Shoulder. Foodies will flip over the calamari, which is nothing like you’d expect, but ties neatly into the ongoing theme of unexpected delights. Many restaurants in the neighborhood add Rhode Island’s state appetizer to their menu, but do any of them serve it battered in a squid ink tempura? The towering plate arrives at the table in a midnight shade that truly encapsulates Giusto’s flair for “Freestyle Italian,” and while it took me a minute to adjust my expectations, I cleaned off the plate pretty quickly!
Even though Giusto has been open for just a short time (and no less during a pandemic!), they’ve already become one of the coolest restaurants in Newport. With a tantalizing menu that you can’t get anywhere else, some of the kindest and most attentive servers and front of house staff, plus a brilliant chef at the helm, Giusto is “just right” for a one-of-a-kind night on the town! Salud!