Apparently pumpkins are good for more than smashing. Via Maestra 42, a tiny Italian trattoria on State Street, is serving up their famous pumpkin ravioli that will make you lament the scattered gourds along DP come Halloween.
Sitting unassumingly next to a post office in an old strip mall, the restaurant is incongruous in all the right ways. Its interior happily fulfilled my stereotyped notions of how Italian restaurants should look; shelves and deli counters piled high with cured ham and fresh pasta, whole wheels of Parmesan next to a display case of fluffy hazelnut, blood orange and peach gelato. Nestled amongst the terracotta dishes of whole artichokes and grilled eggplant are rows of specialist desserts: “cannoli” from Sicily and sticky “baba al rum” from Naples, all handmade and imported weekly from Italy … I was won over, and we hadn’t even got to the pasta yet.
The restaurant’s most celebrated ravioli arrives glistening with butter and sage, filled with rich pumpkin and a hint of nutmeg. Decadent and warming, it deserves its fan base.
But manager Mickey is quick to point out a hidden gem, boasting a Penne alla Bolognese “you couldn’t find anywhere else … the meat is slow cooked for 7-9 hours before serving — it’s an old grandma’s recipe.”
I was inclined to think he might be biased until I tried it for myself. It’s hard not to feel jealous; I love my grandma, but I think I’d love Mickey’s more.
The menu also features “Spaghetti Gamberoni” — fat shrimp on a bed of ‘al dente’ spaghetti, crushed tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, finished with a simple squeeze of lemon.
The flavors here are clean and simple, letting the ingredients take center stage. At $15 an entree, it’s just indulgent enough for an occasional treat. Portions are Italian-sized rather than American-sized though, so you might want to fill up on their rustic bread and olive oil if you’re on a budget.
There’s an English phrase that goes “It’s all fur coat and no knickers,” meaning something that’s all show but no substance. I am happy to say that Via Maestra 42 is the opposite: big Italian knickers, with no fur coat in sight. There’s no leather-bound menu or linen tablecloth, just unpretentious, authentic dishes served by people who love their food enough to haul their ingredients all the way across the Atlantic.
Mickey sums it up nicely for me as I reluctantly leave the corner of Little Italy Via Maestra 42: “It’s nice to have good service [and] smiling people around … but what you really want, is that,” he says, pointing to the plates we had licked clean, ready for the next hungry customer.