BRISTOL, R.I. — Peter A. Carvelli often hears diners ask why they’d eat a plant-based meal if they aren’t vegan. While sitting at the bar in his new restaurant one recent afternoon, he suggested an answer: “Try my food first. And then judge.”
Carvelli is the chef and owner of Foglia, a new all-vegan establishment on State Street in Bristol that formally opens Thursday. He started truly cooking for the public in 2019, hosting pop-ups of tasting menus around the Providence and Newport areas under the name Twelve Plants. He quickly grew a following.
Carvelli — who also works as a personal injury lawyer — acknowledges that the food he serves may not suit everyone’s cravings.
“I’m not trying to be for everyone. But I’m not shouting that this is a vegan spot,” said Carvelli, running his hands over the menu. “It doesn’t say vegan anywhere on this menu.”
Foglia, which means “leaf” in Italian, is located inside the former Statesman Tavern and where Persimmon, another popular fine-dining establishment, first opened before it moved to the East Side of Providence. It breaks the mold of what many vegan eateries look like in New England: fast-casual, almost clinical-looking with stark white walls, unappealing to those who still prefer to eat meat and dairy.
Instead, Carvelli said he intentionally created an intimate dining setting with a nearly black back-bar and dark accents on custom cushioned benches, bar stools, and room dividers that add privacy to tables and an almost moody warmness to the room.
Many of the small and large plates — which he said will vary based on seasonality and will not exceed $24 each — are approachable and familiar with Italian-inspired flair. Carvelli is using all local ingredients from various farms in southern New England, making simple produce shine in complex dishes, such as the fried squash blossoms with almond ricotta; a chickpea panisse with a cherry tomato salad; or the house-made agnolotti with mushroom-tofu ricotta and a sherry mushroom sauce.
“We had a summer tomato salad on the menu [during the soft opening] and we just stayed out of the way. The tomatoes were just gorgeous,” said Carvelli, who also once worked as a photojournalist and reporter in New Hampshire. “It was some nice heirlooms, salt, pepper, a beautiful olive oil, and I make my own focaccia bread that I serve it with.
“I didn’t plan on putting that on the menu a week ago,” he said. “But then I had these tomatoes and they were beautiful. How could I not serve these in some way? And that’s the kind of thing people can look forward to when they come here.”
He’ll be adding items to the menu throughout Foglia’s first week, too, such as a new take on an eggplant parmigiana using pomodoro, pesto, and a non-dairy béchamel sauce. He makes his pastas fresh, by hand. Each diner receives a sweet treat (for free) with their check. This week, it’s a plant-based rice crispy treat created by his pastry chef.
Foglia will eventually serve signature tasting menus and offer a weekend brunch. Their bar program will center on a wine list that features sustainable and innovative vineyards. Take, for example, the Mongrana Maremma Toscana, which is a Sangiovese blend that’s both organic and vegan. Carvelli says its a bottle that’s representative of Querciabella’s biodynamic vineyards in Italy.
Carvelli also has a small group of investors who believe in the concept, though he declined to discuss financial specifics and said he controls the restaurant’s brand and direction.
“I’m not running away from the word [vegan],” said Carvelli. “This just happens to be an upscale, chef-driven restaurant that happens to be plant-based.”
Katy Johnson, originally of New York, is Foglia’s general manager. She started her career inside the restaurants at Castle Hill Inn as a cocktail waitress. She never left the hospitality industry, with long stints at the former Biltmore Hotel (now part of the Graduate Hotel chain)and Harbor Lights in Warwick, among other places.
“I was excited about this concept when I first met Peter. This idea is long overdue in Rhode Island,” she said of the upscale vegan restaurant.
And Foglia’s look — and its plates — are already turning heads.
While a Globe reporter was conducting an interview, a local couple walked into the restaurant after seeing the windows open for the first time. They aren’t vegans, they said, but are excited about a new restaurant finally opening up in the space. They booked a reservation for one of Foglia’s first seatings.
“They’re coming because they know me. But I think they are going to like the food. And I believe they will return — just as many do,” said Carvelli. “Vegan or not, people just need to give it — and me — a chance.”