The joys of rediscovering Vetrano's

When our kids were little, Vetrano's was a regular stop. They were happy with pasta or pizza - and our daughter practically made a meal out of the housemade focaccia bread and oil brought to the table. Betty and I were thrilled to sit down to an excellent meal cooked by someone else, with a nice glass of wine.

But when the kids got old enough to leave home, Vetrano's fell out of our rotation. Last Friday, we realized what a mistake that had been.

We arrived a little after 6 expecting the restaurant to be busy and it was. Inside the door, a group stood facing the pizza oven, waiting for their take-out orders. We made our way through the crowd to find a hostess, who informed us of a 25-minute wait.

We got lucky to find some seats at the bar and ordered drinks. The bar is new - installed in April as Vetrano's tries to keep up with all the other restaurants in town. The bartender proudly told us it was made of black walnut from Iowa, and it was gorgeous.

The wait wasn't any longer than promised and we took our seats in a half-booth in the main dining room. There's a second long, narrow room, with additional tables.

Our party of four started with calamari ($11) and an antipasto ($13).

The antipasto ? Genoa, prosciutto, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, artichokes, soupy, sharp provolone and olives, all drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette and on a bed of mixed greens - perfectly did its job of getting our taste buds ready for a tasty meal.

The calamari was lightly breaded and tender, and served with an overflowing gravy boat of homemade marinara. Add some garlic butter and hot cherry peppers (Rhode Island style) and it would have been even better.

The problem with ordering appetizers at Vetrano's is, it turns out, the entrees come with a salad or, for a $1 more, a cup of soup. Since we had just devoured the antipasto, three of us went the soup route.

I'm often disappointed by restaurant fagioli, but this thick mix of cannellini beans and ditalini was as good as I've ever had. The chowder was the expected creamy mix of clams and potatoes.

After the apps, our friend Cheryl wasn't interested in either soup or salad, so our waitress offered to put a salad in the walk-in so she could take it home. Very nice touch.

For entrees, we ordered sea scallops ($24), pasta bolognese ($16), veal Sorrentina ($20) and La Paesana ($16).

La Paesana was a delicious mix of sauteed sausage, onions and peppers in a light marinara served over pasta. (Pasta choices are spaghetti, linguini, rigatoni, fettuccine, penne, angel hair, whole wheat or gluten-free.)

The veal was thin, tender and tasty. The dish also included eggplant, which tended to get lost among the plentiful veal. You'd never confuse the marinara sauce, with big chunks of tomatoes, with what you buy in the jar.

The bolognese - again served over choice of pasta - was a hearty meat sauce. It didn't have the complexity of the best bolognese, which also often includes veal and leaves little doubt that the sauce has been simmering all day.

My memory of the scallops was a little thin so I contacted Cheryl who filled in the details: Eight pan-seared scallops were nicely presented with broccoli, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes in a lemon rosemary sauce. As if that wasn't enough, some cheese ravioli found room on the plate.

"It was awesome!!!!!! Ate the next day for lunch. LOTS OF FOOD!" Cheryl said in a text.

Actually, that pretty much summed up our visit.

While we were stuffed at this point, and bringing home doggie bags, the dessert list was too tempting to pass on. So Betty and Cheryl shared a monstrous piece of lemon mascarpone cake ($8), Dan had the oreo cheesecake ($8) and I went with an over-sized cannoli ($5). All sinfully delicious.

Vetrano's Restaurant

130 Granite St., Westerly
(401) 348-5050

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.

Cuisine: Classic Italian and N.Y. style pizza.

Atmosphere: Sunday dinner at grandma's house - if your grandmother is Italian - with heaping plates of food being passed around and the wine flowing.

Service: A little harried but didn't miss a beat on a very busy night.

Prices: Most of the dinner entrees are in the $16-$20 range.

Handicap access: Yes

Credit cards: All majors

Reservations: For parties of 6 or more


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