If you happen to cruise by the ShopRite shopping center and glance at the new Rizzuto’s while driving by, you might peg it as a chain restaurant. In fact, this casual, convenient Italian place is part of a chain, but a small, local one—four restaurants in Connecticut, all carefully attended to by the owner, Bill Rizzuto. Outside there’s ample parking; inside there’s a huge dining room with a lengthy bar, roomy banquettes and two upper levels of seating. While the space is expansive, the food is intimate and personal—think homemade pastas and bread, Neapolitan pizzas, daily steak and seafood specials, and “Sunday gravy” from chef Tony Camilleri’s family recipe.
The interiror of Rizzuto's Restaurant in Stamford, CT
It tastes like the fare you’d expect from a favorite little neighborhood trattoria: classics with personality and a touch of the unexpected. The bruschetta, for instance, gets a fresh spin with the addition of melted gorgonzola cheese. The Frutta di Mare of Little Neck clams, mussels, shrimp and octopus is served in a spicy broth, yet the whole dish is chilled (and surprisingly good). A standard-issue calamari arrives with a few fried hot peppers tossed into the mix, as if the chef is making sure guests stay on their toes. The piping-hot, homemade pappardelle topped with a ragu of veal, beef and pork is garnished with a mound of cool, fresh ricotta. Judging by the crowd on recent Friday and Saturday nights, this home-style menu and the ample portions have captivated families, couples and groups of singles alike. Post-recession prices are also part of the appeal. “Value is very important to me,” says Bill Rizzuto, who I’ve seen walking around chatting with guests on two of the three evenings I’ve eaten here, and on several occasions at the Westport location. He and his staff tasted some 200 bottles before selecting the house wines, and many bottles on the wine list cost less than $40. Bargain hunters will appreciate Monday nights, when all bottles of wine are half price.
Parmesan-topped facaccia bread with olives and tomato sauce
The eating begins before you delve into Rizzuto’s appetizer and antipasti menu. Soon after sitting for one recent dinner, before we even picked up our menus, the waiter set a large plate of focaccia bread topped with herbs and parmesan on the table. I couldn’t resist noshing on a few pieces; it was warm and addictive. The antipasti choices are abundant: cured meats of all varieties, artisan cheeses served with apricot preserves and truffled honey, and assorted vegetables (my favorites are the eggplant caponata and the roasted cauliflower with preserved lemon, pistachios and currants). The chopped gorgonzola salad has become my go-to, loaded with crunchy veggies and so easy to eat. The tender meatballs in pink sauce have a similar potential to be habit forming, and I’m also partial to the Shrimp Diavolo, which is almost like a shrimp bruschetta, but with a kick from Italian chiles.
Neapolitan pizza served with a variety of toppings
In the mood for old-school Italian? The Sunday Gravy entrée and the Pappardelle Ragu more than satisfied our cravings—both are over-the-top rich and guaranteed to require a takeout container. Sunday Gravy looks like a gigantic platter of sausage, meatballs and sauce, but there’s actually fettuccine hiding underneath. The Veal Braciole on top is super tender and so delicious. My favorite entrée is the Shrimp Picatta, as I love the juicy artichokes, the flavors of the roasted garlic and the tender baby spinach. Though it’s served with gnocchi, this picatta is not heavy, thanks in part to a bright, lemony caper sauce. Beef fans will appreciate the nightly steak specials. We sliced into a rosemary-marinated trattoria steak (a cut that comes from the round, also known as petit filet), which was paired with a spoon of sea salt and grilled asparagus. The only lackluster entrée was the Prosciutto-Wrapped Local Cod. Though the fish was delicate and cooked properly, the overall flavor was a bit bland.
Meatballs al forno with pecorino romani and mozzarella cheese
We surrendered to our sweet tooth to sample a few bites of dessert. If you like apple turnovers, consider the apple and dried cherry crostata, a fancier version with dulce de leche gelato (yum!). Another decadent option is the nutella cheesecake with a crunchy hazelnut chocolate brittle. But for me, the light and creamy tiramisu trumps all other treats. For a simpler cap to the dinner, sip the house-made limoncello, a favorite digestivo. But the meal doesn’t really end there, of course, because you’ll have plenty left over to take home to feast on later. And you know that bolognese tastes even better the second time around.
Apple and dried cherry crostata with dulce de leche gelato
1980 West Main Street
Mon.–Tue., 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Wed.–Thu., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Sun., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.