IN THE KITCHEN Caffé Tosca general manager Chris Jule describes the Hingham bistro as a “more comfort-style, more casual version” of Tosca, the fine-dining venue across the street. Both are part of the Eat Well Inc. group, along with Stars on Hingham Harbor next door. Jule has run Caffé Tosca since it opened 10 years ago. The menu, he says, is Northern Italian-inspired, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. The kitchen makes sauces and dressings from scratch, most of the pasta and desserts are made at Tosca, and breads arrive fresh every day from Eat Well’s Fireking Bakery in Braintree. Jule and executive chef Jose Filho, who was formerly a sous-chef at Tosca, change the menus seasonally, a task that is harder than it sounds. “There are some items, like meatballs and eggplant Parmesan, that we could never, ever take off the menu,” he says. With reasonable prices and generous servings, the restaurant also does a brisk takeout business.
THE LOCALE In a neighborhood of sedate old homes and buildings on the edge of Hingham Square, Caffé Tosca makes good use of a small space. The building has been a restaurant for many years, Jule said, but “back in the day” it was a combination gas station and bicycle shop. There’s no trace of the bicycle shop in the main dining room, where a dozen or so dark wood tables are topped smartly with white linens. But in the side dining room, where we ate, it was clear that the wide frosted-glass windows had once been service bay doors. In the main dining room, two walls of windows look out onto a patio dotted with slender trees outlined with white lights. In good weather, you can dine alfresco. A discreet bar with a television occupies one side of the room. If, like me, you would rather not watch TV while you dine out, there are tables from which the screen is not visible. Caffé Tosca serves dinner year-round and lunch in the summer months. The restaurant has the feel of a neighborhood trattoria, and Jule confirms that it owes its longevity to loyal regulars. “Sometimes on a Saturday night I feel like I know 80 percent of the people in the building,” he said.
ON THE MENU The Italian classics are all here, but ratcheted up a notch with fresh vegetables, attractive presentations, and nice combinations of color and taste. A colorful antipasti for two ($15) came on a board, and featured bright-pink prosciutto, tangy salami, crisp bread toasts, fried baby artichokes with aioli, olives, slivers of goat and cheddar cheeses, bright-red sweet peppers stuffed with cheese, and a mound of potato salad in the center, garnished with peppery arugula. Pastas are offered in half portions, which along with a salad would make a meal for most. Our favorite was shrimp scampi capellini (shown above) ($13 half order, $22 full), angel hair and crisp broccolini in light, lemony sauce. We also tried spaghetti with Mama Decarli’s meatballs ($13 half, $22 full), which were soft with just a hint of spiciness. The meatball recipe, Jule said later, comes from the mother of one of the owners. “It’s a combination of beef, pork, and veal, and that’s all I can say,’’ he said. A house specialty, chicken saltimbocca ($20) was served on “rustic” potato, a tasty combination of mashed red bliss and chopped herbs, with slender asparagus and big leaves of sage. One diner craved salmon but wanted the butternut squash risotto paired with scallops on the menu. No problem. Our pleasant server subbed the risotto on the wood-grilled salmon dish ($24), and it was delicious. The menu also offers steaks and wood-grilled individual pizzas.
Caffé Tosca is at 15 North St., Hingham, 781-740-9400, www.caffetoscahingham.com.Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.