Mamma Mia, it’s a makeover

Pop­u­lar city eatery Savini’s puts fin­ish­ing touches on re­mod­el­ing

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By RUSS OLIVO ro­livo@woonsock­et­

WOONSOCKET — Sum­mer may be over, but a new po­modoro has been qui­etly grow­ing in your back yard – a big, tasty one... with a cap­i­tal P.

It’s Savini’s Po­modoro, an heir­loom of a restau­rant if there ever was one – and aptly named for the Ital­ian word for tomato.

Founded as Savini’s in 1980 by Roger and Miche­line Savini, the 476 Rath­bun St. es­tab­lish­ment has un­der­gone a makeover by the same folks who brought you Ciro’s Tav­ern on Cherry – their daugh­ters, Jill Savini Moy­lan, Gina Savini and Jill’s hus­band, Matt Moy­lan. They’re putting the fin­ish­ing touches on a full re­model of the restau­rant, in­clud­ing façade and land­scap­ing im­prove­ments, cou­pled with an up­dated menu that’s as fru­gal and fam­i­lyfriendly as ever.

“I feel like Ital­ian food around here has sort of van­ished,” says Moy­lan. “We’re kind of rein­vent­ing that and bring­ing it back to the mar­ket.”

The new con­cept was rolled out with lit­tle fan­fare a few weeks ago, but Moy­lan says the for­mal re­brand­ing of Savini’s Po­modoro will be of­fi­cial ef­fec­tive Oct. 3, when the restau­rant is ready to round out the menu with lunch of­fer­ings.

Guests will find a cozy, mod­ern restau­rant with a “loungy” feel, two horse­shoe bars and

nichey VIP rooms in the main din­ing area. Up­stairs will still be for ban­quets, wed­dings and fam­ily-size din­ing par­ties, as well as Sun­day brunches. Moy­lan says he’s shoot­ing to bring in new vis­i­tors by book­ing live en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing com­edy and mu­sic.

Savini’s Po­modoro won’t break with the Savini’s tra­di­tion of fam­ily-style chicken, but the menu has been thor­oughly re­vamped to put Italo-Amer­i­can cui­sine front-and-cen­ter.

Think parmegiana, as in eg­g­plant, chicken and veal. Think panini sand­wiches and wood-grilled pizza. Above all, think pasta – but not just spaghetti in red sauce. While the menu is still get­ting tweaked, the draft ver­sion has a few va­ri­eties of macaroni sel­dom seen in these parts, un­less you buy them at the su­per­mar­ket and put them on the ta­ble your­self. There’s bu­ca­tini, for ex­am­ple, a hol­low, reed-like pasta akin to a straw – the kind used to sip drinks. Then there’s fusilli – pasta shaped like a corkscrew.

They’ll have tra­di­tional sauces for pasta, but at Savini’s Po­modoro, din­ers will also be able to choose en­trees a la car­bonara, a sauce made with egg and ba­con, or gar­lic and olive oil – aglio olio in Ital­ian. Don’t ask how it’s pro­nounced.

“We’re go­ing back to au­then­tic, grass­roots Ital­ian food,” says Moy­lan. “Every­thing will be made from scratch.”

The restau­rant’s pasta sup­ply will come from Lilly’s, a well-known pur­veyor of craft pas­tas in Bos­ton.

From some Savini’s tra­di­tions, the new Po­modoro ver­sion won’t stray at all, says Moy­lan. Two of them are Roger and Miche­line Savini. They’ll still be on hand work­ing along­side the rest of the staff.

Moy­lan says one of the restau­ra­teur cou­ple's great­est ac­com­plish­ments over the years was keep­ing their es­tab­lish­ment a wel­come des­ti­na­tion for blue-col­lar, work­ing­class fam­i­lies. And that’s an­other tra­di­tion Savini’s Po­modoro’s in­tends to honor go­ing for­ward.

Moy­lan, who has three small chil­dren, says fam­i­lies shouldn’t have to break the bank to go out to eat. He howls with in­cred­u­lous laugh­ter as he tells a story about the price of a re­cent meal, con­sist­ing of roughly a half-dozen ravi­oli, at a restau­rant in a neigh­bor­ing sub­urb: Over $40.

Prices at Savini’s Po­modoro will be far more down to earth. En­trees will gen­er­ally range from $12.99 to $15.99 for se­lec­tions that typ­i­cally run far higher in other lo­cales. Lunch will be even more af­ford­able – un­der $10 in some cases.

With a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of about 200, the land­mark redbrick restau­rant dates back to 1938, ac­cord­ing to Moy­lan. It was built by the Sons of Italy, which ran it as a pri­vate fra­ter­nal club. A few women worked in the kitchen – in­clud­ing Roger Savini’s mother.

The SOI later sold the club, which was rein­car­nated as an­other Ital­ian restau­rant, Felice’s. When the owners of Felice’s later wanted to sell it, they listed it with a real es­tate agent – Roger Savini. Moy­lan says his fa­ther-in-law was very en­tre­pre­neur­ial, with a wide range of real es­tate and busi­ness in­vest­ments from the time he was a young man. He owned restau­rants but he never ran one – un­til he de­cided to buy his own list­ing.

Over the years, Savini’s be­came an in­sti­tu­tion in fam­ily-style din­ing and a venue for large gath­er­ings, from wed­dings to fu­neral col­la­tions. It still has a loyal cus­tomer base, ac­cord­ing to Moy­lan. In fact, he says he tried shut­ting the restau­rant down for the ren­o­va­tions, but cus­tomers con­tin­ued to ar­rive. He kept the kitchen open and moved din­ers up­stairs while crews re­mod­eled the main din­ing room.

A work in progress, the makeover is shift­ing from in­doors to out, says Moy­lan. What’s now a park­ing lot will even­tu­ally look much greener, he says. There’ll be new planters for peren­ni­als and soon, a pa­tio for al fresco din­ing.

A mi­grant from the tech in­dus­try who now runs his own busi­ness de­vel­op­ment com­pany, Moy­lan is con­fi­dent Savini’s Po­modoro will en­joy the same kind of re­nais­sance as Ciro’s Tav­ern on Cherry, one of down­town’s most pop­u­lar nightspots. Moy­lan says Ciro’s ben­e­fits greatly from its prox­im­ity to the Sta­dium Theater, an im­por­tant call­ing card that draws many from Greater Woonsocket in search of en­ter­tain­ment, food and drink.

As he and other mem­bers of the Savini clan now seek to rein­vent and rein­vig­o­rate a ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion in din­ing out, Moy­lan says he’s confi- dent there’s still room for growth in the city’s restau­rant in­dus­try, one of the most ro­bust sec­tors of the lo­cal econ­omy. But he says the key to suc­cess will be giv­ing out­siders and first-timers a rea­son to sam­ple the wares.

“The tough­est chal­lenge I see is for the lunch busi­ness,” says Moy­lan. “There is no cor­po­rate cen­ter that drives busi­ness lunches… we don’t have uni­ver­si­ties. To do busi­ness here you’ve got to de­velop a unique model and it’s got to bring in peo­ple from out­side the city.”

Pho­tos by Ernest A. Brown/The Call

Savini's Po­modoro Ital­ian Kitchen and Bar is now open and fea­tures some clas­sic Ital­ian dishes in­clud­ing Riga­toni Bolog­nese, An­gel Hair Aglio E Olio, Chicken Parmi­giana, HalfPound Meat­balls and Mari­nara and Clas­sic Wood-Grilled Piz­zas. The din­ing rooms...

Ernest A. Brown/The Call

Savini’s has all new decor... al­most as good as the food.

Ernest A. Brown/The Call

ABOVE: Savini’s new sign; BE­LOW: The Savini’s crew, circa 1997.

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