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Cheap Eats

Find Sicilian specialties at the back of Vinny’s Suprette

Littleneck clams with garlic and olive oil over linguine at Vinny’s Ristorante.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Littleneck clams with garlic and olive oil over linguine at Vinny’s Ristorante.

Vinny’s Suprette is like any convenience store: shelves of potato chips, dish washing liquid, local papers. Then you notice the meat slicer on the counter, where friendly girls prepare fresh Italian subs and sell slices of Sicilian pizza. At the rear of the store, tables spill out from a metal partition, where the shop ends and Vinny’s Ristorante, a small gem of a Sicilian-American restaurant, comes to life at lunch and dinner.

Vinny’s at Night, as it is also called, is not a new addition to Somerville. In 1984 Suprette owner Vinny Migliore started serving subs, and then lunch, out of his shop. When supermarkets opened on Sundays, Migliore saw mom-and-pop stores like his disappearing. The Sicilian-born shopkeeper decided to take culinary classes at Bunker Hill Community College and transform his family recipes into a new business venture. He’s been serving home-style Sicilian food to locals ever since.

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Sipping the inexpensive house white, with an overflowing basket of crusty Italian bread sitting temptingly before us, we await littlenecks ($13.95). A large bowl of fresh clams in steaming garlicky wine broth arrives and we quickly tear into the bread, mopping up every last drop. Beef bracciola ($19.95), tender braised beef rolled up with prosciutto and gooey cheese, is Sunday comfort food at its best. The accompanying fusilli is fresh, though not made in-house. “I lie to no one,” Migliore says dramatically. The shapes on offer (fusilli and mafalde) come from Maria’s Gourmet Pasta Products in Malden. Migliore recently took a pasta-making class at Boston Center for Adult Education, and has plans to start making the sheets for lasagna ($14.95). “In Sicily, we never heard of lasagna, we make al forno,” he informs us. Pasta al forno ($15.95) is a hearty and flavorful bake of bucatini pasta, layered with peas, mushrooms, fried eggplant, caramelized onion, and eggs, mixed with the house marinara. Migliore makes 30 gallons of his red sauce a day, based on his mother’s recipe. The sauce is savory, with a hint of sweet, and bright with basil; a lovely way to cloak springy gnocchi ($8.95 lunch, $11.95 dinner) for a simple, satisfying lunch.

Vinny’s is just the place for a leisurely midday meal. You’ll see businesspeople with clients, and Italian-American regulars giving each other a hard time over plates of pasta. But more than anything, Vinny’s is a family restaurant, and when you take out-of-towners here for lunch, they feel let in on a local secret. This food can go up against the best red sauce places in the North End, and you avoid those tourist trap prices.

Littlenecks over linguine ($15.95) offers the same garlicky sauce, this time over al dente strands of noodles. Chicken Marsala ($13.95 lunch, $18.95 dinner) is a generous portion of white meat chicken, also served over pasta. And though the meat should be more tender and less dry, the sauce, with its mushrooms and house-made oven-dried cherry tomatoes, sings over fresh mafalde.

Sicilian rabbit ($17.95) is succulent and tender, first dredged in flour, then seared and braised with onions, chicken stock, capers, olives, sugar, and vinegar. These classic tastes of agro-dolce (sweet and sour) are typical in Sicilian cuisine and the dish has a balanced acidity that’s addictive.

Ask Migliore what makes this dish Sicilian, and he exclaims, “A Sicilian made it! What more do you want?”

Nothing, just maybe a straw to slurp up the remaining sauce.

Some of Vinny’s prices may seem a bit high, but they serve up value, bathed in that soothing, slightly sweet red sauce. This is deliciously unfussy food, offered in generous portions, made by someone who wants everyone to feel well fed and happy.

As Migliore tells us, “I deal in quality. . . . I don’t care if you are Jewish, Italian, or Polish. You got taste buds!”

Catherine Smart can be reached at
cathjsmart@gmail.com
.
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