News about restaurant closures escalate every week. Many independent businesses are barely hanging on. But Matteo Ronzio and his wife, Francesca, came to Medford from Italy with a dream: to open a restaurant. They’re not giving up.
They run Real Italian Gusto in Medford Square, a small pizza and pasta shop with a chef from Naples, Ciro Langella. Ronzio is from Florence, and his wife is from Milan. He used to work in sales and marketing for Thermo Fisher Scientific, and he came here a lot on business.
“We fell in love with New England: Boston, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont. And there’s a big Italian community in Boston and in Medford itself. We decided to try this crazy thing to open a business here in the United States, and we love food and wine, because we’re Italians,” he says.
The restaurant previously employed 17 people; now they’re down to five. When they reopen, they’ll have fewer seats. But for now, Ronzio is focused on the present, sticking to the same authentic food he grew up with, this time for takeout.
“We do everything from scratch. I don’t have a freezer; I have a walk-in fridge,” he says. “We don’t have a big menu, but we do homemade pasta, with Italian tomatoes and flour for the pizza. We say we’re authentic, because we are from Italy. We do recipes that we do at our house. Nothing too fancy. We usually don’t use garlic. Most Italian restaurants in US use a lot; we use garlic for marinara pizza but not for marinara sauce. Small things that make the taste different. Not better, different.”
His favorite dish is margherita pizza ($11), so that’s what we ordered last weekend, when my family and I were eager for pizza — and anxious to support a local business. Ronzio promised a fluffier, airier dough, and that’s what we got. Instead of an oily, droopy slice (which certainly has its place in the pantheon of pizza styles), this was light and craterous, with hardly any grease, just a light blanket of tomato sauce and a few dabs of chewy mozzarella. It’s sweet and savory; four slices are easy to eat on one’s own. My kids go for the Calabria ($13): spicy salami, crisp pepperoni-like saucers with little pools of grease in the meat. They approve.
We also order arancini ($8). I would visit again for this dish alone; enormous fried rice balls dotted with sweet little peas. So often, arancini are dry and bulbous, with the texture of soggy sweat socks. Here, the rice has structural integrity. A splash of that sweetish marinara sauce (no garlic) helps. Next time, we’ll try the pastas: carbonara, ravioli, amatriciana.
During normal times, the restaurant offers dine-in options. Now, it’s pizza and pasta to go, with a new menu addition: pizza with prosciutto and fig spread, called “speranza,” meaning hope.
“We’re lucky to be here and happy to be here,” says Ronzio. “We have all our relatives in Italy, and Italy is struggling a lot. Now is not fun. . . . But we love to go to work.”
Real Italian Gusto, 24 High St., Medford, 781-396-1656, www.realitaliangusto.com