The first rule of shaking up people’s preconceptions about a new restaurant is simple: bring in the drag queens.
OK, we made that up. But Joseph and Esther DeQuattro, owners of Federal Hill’s successful Pane E Vino, faced a challenge when opening their new eatery, Massimo, in the space formerly occupied by Medeterraneo: how to build on their solid track record with Pane E Vino while carving out a unique identity for the new place just down the street. And yes — drag queens really are involved (back to that in a minute).
Chefs from both restaurants were on hand for a recent preview dinner that drew some sharp distinctions between the Italian standards offered up at Pane E Vino (bruschetta, four-cheese gnocchi, veal and chicken saltimbocci and parmigiano, etc.) and the rustic, regional Italian influenced dishes at Massimo. Eating is believing, so the DeQuattros smartly opened dinner with burrata, a classic Pane E Vino appetizer of fresh mozzarella and olive oil. Simple and delicious, the burrata nonetheless contrasted with what was to come from the Massimo menu — a Hamachi Crudo appetizer made with grapefruit, celery, pickled chili peppers, and a fennel cracker, followed by charred octopus (suckers and all) served over cannellini beans tossed with chorizo and sweet bell peppers.
The octopus was the star of the meal and a great example of the rustic, locally sourced vibe at Massimo. Here, even the classics get a modern twist: the Massimo Bolognese has duck meat and livers substituting for the beef that’s traditionally mixed with pork for the ragu. A glance at the Massimo dinner menu shows nothing too wildly “out there” (Statler Chicken, after all, is a main dinner choice), but you’ll find plenty of distinction between the offerings here and at Pane E Vino that you’ll want to make room for both on your gustatory calendar.
Massimo’s main dining room spills out onto the street for al fresco dining during the warm weather, and the expansive upstairs has a separate bar and seating for up to 125 people. To get a taste of what kind of party you could have up here, check out Massimo’s Drag Brunch on the first Sunday of every month, featuring performances by local drag queens to perk up your frittatas and bellinis. Fun fact: Massimo Brancaccio, a.k.a. Billy More, was Italy’s most famous drag queen. Coincidence? We don’t know, but it’s clear that Massimo is no mere impersonator of Pane E Vino — now, on with the show!
134 Atwells Ave
Providence, RI 02903
Sunday 10:30 am to 10 pm
Monday – Thursday 11:30 am to 10 pm
Friday – Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm
(All photos © Bob Curley)