Sing for Your Supper
Mobtown Italian Joint Is a Hit
This location is closed
I sometimes make the mistake of thinking of Canton as exclusively O'Donnell Square. And while you'll find several good restaurants there, it's worth going off the main drag and hunting down those little taverns-with-food that dot the waterfront neighborhood's otherwise residential blocks--say, Soprano's Café, sister establishment of Little Italy's Luigi Petti. This corner restaurant/bar offers a small but ambitious (perhaps too ambitious) menu of pastas, pizzas, and family favorites. It's upscale enough to bring a date, casual enough to schlep the kids. In fact, on a recent Saturday night, four of us claimed a table just as a large family was packing up the rugrats (and a ton of leftovers).
The dining rooms sit separate from the bar room, so you don't get the smoke or noise. The front dining room is smaller and has a more formal feel; the room in the back has more of a bistro ambiance, thanks to the clever use of paintings, posters, and photos of tough guys on the wall. There's a relaxed feel throughout that whets the appetite.
We started sating ours with orders of garlic bread ($2.95) and garlic cheese bread ($3.25), both of which were tasty if not particularly garlicky. An appetizer special of stuffed mushroom caps ($8.95, not always available) turned out to be one enormous cap filled with a creamy crab imperial. The seafood had little flavor, but we enjoyed the earthy mushroom and the bed of light, fresh creamed spinach on which it sat. The best starter, by unanimous proclamation, was a dish called shrimp Luciano ($8.95)--in homage to Lucky, one presumes. The casserole dish contained five succulent jumbo shrimp and pieces of salty prosciutto in an irresistible brandy sauce. We dunked everything we could lay our hands on in the sauce, then took up spoons to finish it off. As my friend M.K. remarked, "This could be a meal by itself!"
From among the family favorites, my friend Bobby chose the dish that sounded most authentically Old World, penne with cannellini beans and sage ($9.95). "Oh, the chef will be so happy," our earnest server trilled. "Hardly anyone orders that." The chef, alas, was not happy, and sent back word that he was fresh out of sage. Bobby opted instead for baked penne ($7.95), a good-sized casserole of homemade pasta tossed with slices of sweet Italian sausage in red sauce and topped with lots of parmesan cheese. This dish, and C.C.'s cheese ravioli ($7.95) topped with two large meatballs ($1.50 extra), were not culinary screamers clamoring for attention, but they did what they did very well--quality ingredients, nicely prepared. The meats were lean, the pastas al dente. The sauce was lively, the cheeses lush. Add a glass or two of red wine and you'd want for nothing more.
My crab pizza ($10.95) was nearly a match. Ample for two, it spread lots of crab (although no lumps) on a thick, slightly sweet, slightly crunchy crust. The restrained use of mozzarella let the crab flavor come through.
M.K.'s selection was the disappointment of the evening. Chicken Marco ($11.95) featured a boneless breast in a lemon-caper wine sauce with the vegetable of the day (broccoli). While I like the convenience of the boneless breast, it's hard to keep from overcooking the little suckers, and this one was tough, a fact not even the delicious sauce could obscure.
We had forgotten about salads until after our entrée orders were placed, so the kitchen hustled to produce a house salad ($3.50) and a Soprano salad ($4.95), either of which could have fed the four of us. The house salad was standard stuff (mix of romaine and iceberg lettuce, with tomatoes, onions, olives, and pepperoncini in a creamy Italian). But the Soprano salad (essentially the same ingredients but a better mix of greens) wowed us with its vinaigrette--intensely, insanely balsamic. Perhaps too intense for some, but we lapped it up.
House-made desserts are not available, so we tried a couple of prepackaged frozen things ($3.50) and a cannoli that's at least stuffed in-house (also $3.50). A cherry-flavored chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream went down smoothly, if unremarkably. But we really liked an amaretto cup with its crust of ladyfinger crumbs and liqueur-laced custard filling beneath the obligatory whipped topping. The cannoli was--how to put this?--just a cannoli.
Which might put off the likes of Tony Soprano--if you believe the mobster movies, cannoli is pretty important. But Soprano's Café offers a pretty setting and a pleasant atmosphere for lingering over coffee or that last glass of wine. Cannoli notwithstanding, it's the kind of place Tony might seek out for a taste of Mama's home cooking. If you had a mother like his, you'd eat out too.