Mamma Mia, it’s a makeover
Popular city eatery Savini’s puts finishing touches on remodeling
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.”