WHO’S IN CHARGE Ten years ago, when chef Alessandra Siniscalco Troisi opened Cafe Piazza Dolce, it was a tiny place in the basement of the building she’s in now, serving light fare that customers enjoyed while watching international soccer games on the TVs.
Today, the cafe is a full-blown restaurant that seats 60. In 2008, the cafe moved upstairs to its current space and — after lines formed — expanded again two years later, constructing a wooden gazebo addition that offers al fresco dining year-round. Even in winter months, when snow falls softly, the gazebo is warm and toasty, from the combination of a glowing gas stove, heat, and vinyl/canvas roll-down windows that insulate from the cold.
Growing up in Dedham, the daughter of Italian immigrants, Troisi saw firsthand how Italian food was made and how “Americanized” it had become.
“It’s a lot less complicated than it needs to be,” she said.
THE LOCALE Have you ever traveled through Italy, wandered off the beaten tourist path, and found the one restaurant the locals keep secret for themselves? That’s the feeling you get when you step into Cafe Piazza Dolce, which in Italian means “sweet place to be.”
Off a road winding out from Winchester center, beside Bellino Park, you’ll spot the restaurant from the warm glow of lights. It’s both romantic and a family setting at the same time. Everyone’s made to feel welcome, from the couple dining quietly to a Winchester youth soccer team — still in uniform — celebrating the end of a victorious season.
ON THE MENU Troisi said her parents are her toughest critics. Our family favorite appetizer, Eggplant Enzo ($13), is named after her father. Crispy breaded eggplant cutlets as thin as crepes are stuffed with prosciutto, spinach, and melted cheese, then cut into triangles for sharing. Order it as an entree, it’s that good.
One daughter, a panini fan, enjoyed the club dolce panino dinner ($13), a warm sandwich of turkey, bacon, pesto, provolone, and tomato, plus a house salad and fries.
The chicken walnut faggotini ($24) was my favorite. Picture bundle-shaped pasta that looks like the pinched sacks of money the Monopoly man holds. Instead, these are made with walnuts and grana padano, a hard, slow-ripened cheese (like Parmesan), in a Gorgonzola cream sauce topped with bites of moist chicken and fresh asparagus. Each bite is utter delight.
Wood-fired pizza made in a brick oven is hard to resist, so we ordered a large rustica ($21) to bring home for our second daughter, who couldn’t join us. Sampling one slice, we found it hard to stop enjoying more of the authentic style: the thin, crisp, homemade dough covered in roasted peppers, breaded eggplant, capers, basil, and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
Troisi lets the customers have fun with the black pepper pasta with lamb carbonara ($26), a seasonal special. Lamb and two kinds of bacon, including pancetta (Italian bacon), are sizzled together until crispy, then mixed with tagliatelle pasta, fresh parsley, and cheese. Served with a poached egg on top, guests can play chef and toss all the ingredients themselves, breaking the egg for that creamy carbonara consistency.
We squeezed in one sfogliatella, ($4), a classic Naples pastry with a creamy, egg-based custard inside a crispy, light pastry. Desserts are made on site. Pastry dough, cannoli shells, and gelato are imported from Italy. A sweet place to be indeed.
Cafe Piazza Dolce, 831 Main St., Winchester. 781-838-6092, www.cafepiazzadolce.com.Kathy Shiels Tully can be reach at email@example.com.