Family dining for cheapskates
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 22, 2008

Spirito’s | 401.434.4435 | 99 Hicks St, East Providence | Tues-Thurs, 11:30 am-9 pm; Fri, 11:30 am-10 pm; Sat, 3-10 pm; Sun, 12-8 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
How do they do it? Pardon me for being impressed, but I’m a cheapskate. Sunday’s daily special at Spirito’s, an all-you-can-eat roasted chicken deal that borrows from the Blackstone Valley tradition, includes pasta, as well as French fries and salad — for $9.95. You read that right. 

And the food here isn’t just hastily concocted and tossed onto plates. From our experiences, and from its reputation, they care about ingredients and preparations. Gregory and David Spirito, who take turns helming the kitchen, take the virtuous course, as you’d expect from guys with that demanding sort of surname.

The place is located in the basement of a Sons of Italy lodge, pretty good indication that the food is guilt-tripped into being as good as Mama used to make. (On our visit, we didn’t notice any of the burly guys at one long table wiping away tears of maternal nostalgia, but they could have been tougher than they looked.)

The decor is simple, a typical family restaurant setting. Appetites are humorously enhanced by battered, bulky chairs designed for those quasi-Renaissance banquet feasts. About a dozen wines are listed, all available by the glass and all inexpensive — half of them $13.50 a bottle, none more than $24.

The appetizers ($9.95 or less) are a survey of Rhode Island traditional foods: stuffies, clam zuppa, and fried calamari for everyone; snail salad and fried smelts for the true believers. Having enjoyed the last item here before, we chose the Spirito’s farmer’s special ($8.95). The bowl of cannelloni beans was simmered with red onions and loads of diced capicola, that pork shoulder luncheon meat, providing a rich gravy for the bruschetta it surrounded. So simple, so flavorful.

A cup of one of the soups of the day ($2/$3 ala carte) comes with the entrées, and we were served those first. Since I prefer richly flavored to heart healthy, the chicken escarole was a little on the bland side for me, but fine for my dinner companion. The red clam chowder worked better, with bits of tomato and enough clam bits to compete with the potatoes. Johnnie doesn’t like tomatoes with fish, so I had it all to myself.

Wanting to try one of their half-dozen pizzas ($7.95-$9.95), we ordered the signature Spirito, the one with fresh tomatoes, Gorgonzola, mushrooms and hot peppers. Misheard, we ended up with the chicken Capri version, sans red sauce, with roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella — not much of that last item. The free-form crust was nicely thin, though, and the unannounced black olives and fresh basil were welcome.

For main courses, Spirito’s has chicken and veal dishes, served with choice of pasta or a potato and vegetable, as well as 14-ounce sirloin steaks either simply grilled ($17.95) or with one of three toppings for a buck more. But they also have Venda Ravioli’s pastas, so we decided to order three dishes, sample them, and take the rest home.

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