QUINCY — There’s a steady flow of customers in and out of a tiny takeout spot called Italy’s Little Kitchen, which should not be surprising. Owner Rosa Toscano, a petite woman with a twinkle in her eye, makes everything from scratch, and with the love of an Italian mother. Many of Toscano’s customers call her “mama” and to her, they are like family.
Born in Gioiosa, a seaside village of Calabria, Italy, Toscano has been cooking here for seven years. Daughters Elisa, 35, and Sabrina, 39, help their mother run the place, which has four tables to eat-in, and maps of Italy on the walls. There’s truth in the eatery’s name: The kitchen is indeed small. “We work side-by-side in this tiny space and don’t kill each other,” says Elisa. “And we get to be with our mother every day.”
Rosa keeps a watchful eye on a simmering stock pot of tomato sauce as she works her way around the open kitchen, which looks more like a cluttered home kitchen than a commercial one. The refrigerator is covered with photos of family and customers’ children, postcards, and pictures of patron saints. Every day, Rosa makes four to six gallons of a lush tomato sauce; much of it gets ladled onto oversized, tender meatballs in a hefty sub with provolone (three meatballs to a sandwich). You can’t squeeze it shut.
The cook says that customers think her meatballs are like vitamins and they’ll get sick without them. Three chicken cutlets, lightly breaded and fried in a pan, go into the chicken Parm sub. Sandwiches are made to order, warmed till the roll is crisp, and they are lethally large.
Plates of eggplant are smothered in Parmesan, doused with tomato sauce, and heaped onto pasta. There’s a soup every day, which might be minestrone or chicken and rice. Wednesdays, Rosa cooks her version of American chop suey with ground beef and sausage, mixed with small pasta shells. “Some say we give too much food,” says Rosa. “Why would we skimp?” asks Elisa.
The women know many customers by name and welcome them like friends. For Eddie Cronin, a Quincy bus driver of 40 years, it’s not only Rosa’s meatballs and chicken Parm, but the relationship he’s built with her family that draws him regularly. “If I come in and look tired or sad, they make me a special sandwich. I don’t have to say anything.”
Rosa learned to cook from her mother and aunts when she was a girl. She came to Boston 37 years ago to visit her brother with her husband, Francisco, a mason. The couple decided to stay. For 20 years Rosa worked for Talbots, the Hingham-based women’s clothing retailer, first in the factory and then in the stores.
But Rosa always wanted to have a little restaurant. When she found an empty storefront in Quincy more than half a dozen years ago, she renovated it and opened Italy’s Little Kitchen.
There’s one important detail about the restaurant: You’ll have to hunt to locate it. The address does not match its entrance. It’s in the rear of the building, across from the Quincy T station, and you go around the block to find the front door.
“It will take a bit of a walk to find us,” says Elisa. “But when you do you’ll never forget us.”
Italy’s Little Kitchen 1239 Hancock St., Quincy, 617-479-0984