Garden City Center in Cranston was at its tony suburban oasis best on the night we visited the new Avvio Ristorante, located in the spacious spot formerly occupied by Papa Razzi. Outside, a big crowd gathered around the gazebo to hear a live band play, while we found sanctuary from the sun inside the cool Avvio dining room.
We went in with the solid plan of ordering off of the Providence Restaurant Week menu, which tempted us with the entrees choices of peach and prosciutto pizza, braised chicken risotto, and a panini stuffed with “soapy,” coppa, salami, provolone, and a spread of olive and pepperoncini relish. But operating under the theory that you should sample the standards the first time you try out a new restaurant, we decided instead to order the classic margherita pizza recommended by our friendly and accommodating waitress.
It turned out to be a great call: hot out of the wood-fired oven, the pizza was compact enough for two to share as an appetizer, and the spiral of crispy-edge crust was filled with bright and fresh San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
The menu offers all the classic Italian dishes you’d expect from a neighborhood restaurant plus some fun surprises, such as the sample size portion of short ribs and polenta we received — it’s an off-menu item but definitely ask if it’s available when you visit. Five salads on the menu stand on their own (we’re partial to the Panzanella with baby greens, Vermont cheddar and toasted focaccia) or bulked up with wood-grilled chicken, salmon, steak, or shrimp. You can also order a salad-on-top pizza or get off the beaten path a bit with a black-fig variety.
Sandwiches and calzones are all under $15 so you don’t need to splurge for a night out at Avvio. The pasta dishes — all undergirded with fresh pastas from Venda Ravioli in Providence — include a very nice rigatoni bolognese and gnocchi in tomato cream sauce. Or, order a steak, classic veal or chicken parm, or a more adventurous dish like the pesce all’acqua pazza: pan-roasted cod with garlic, grape tomatoes, and asparagus in a sea-salt broth.
Avvio is the latest dining concept from the always dependable Newport Restaurant Group (22 Bowen’s, Boat House, Hemenways, Trio, Waterman Grille, etc.). It’s open for lunch and dinner, plus Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Garden City Center, 90 Hillside Road Cranston, RI 02920