North

LOCAL FARE

In Beverly, a compressed taste of southern Italian hospitality

Toscana Bar Italiano
There’s a lively scene at the bar at Toscana's in Beverly.

WHO IS IN CHARGE Angelo Perrina, Toscana Bar Italiano’s 31-year-old general manager and head chef, lives in North Reading but knows Beverly well.

“Honestly, we loved the area,” said Perrina, who opened his family’s second Toscana establishment two years ago. “A lot of young people, a lot of development going on. The train station is right there.’’

Perrina acknowledged he has plenty of help on decision-making in the kitchen.

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Asked how many people participate in that effort, he laughed and said: “My mother, my father, my brother, so there are a lot of opinions. I even call my grandmother in Italy sometimes when I have a question.”

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The result is an expansive menu that ranges from grilled pizza (starting at $13) and Sputino appetizers to specials like the Espresso Crusted Rib-Eye ($39) and a dazzling Cioppino seafood stew ($40).

THE ATMOSPHERE Unlike its spacious sister restaurant in Peabody, Toscana Bar Italiano redefines “cozy.” It’s housed in a saltbox structure on Beverly’s gritty Rantoul Street, close by the city’s MBTA parking lot.

“We love the size,’’ said Perrina, “we love the quaintness of the location, just the way it was laid out.”

The tight quarters, and the large flat-screen televisions hovering over the bar, can make any sense of intimacy in the dining room a challenge. My wife Lauri and I got lucky, and were seated at the one table, just inside the entrance by a front window, that provided a little more privacy.

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“It’s such a small place, that the vibe you get in the bar you also get in the dining room,” said Perrina, adding his family is looking to expand in the next two years.

“We’re aren’t like a stiff, high-end restaurant,” he said. “We literally tell our staff, ‘We want your personality to show. Because it’s a neighborhood place, we want people to get know you, and when they leave, they feel like they’re part of the experience. Part of extended family.’”

ON THE MENU The Toscana menu is a reflection of the space.

“We were trying to match the ambience,” said Perrino. “We wanted to have that classic southern Italian feeling, but we also wanted to put that modern twist on it.”

Toscana Bar Italiano
The Long-Stem Artichoke appetizer, stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with prosciutto.

The Long-Stem Artichoke ($14) appetizer, which features a fat artichoke stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with prosciutto, baked and served over an arugula and beet salad, drizzled with a balsamic reduction, was a delightful opening round.

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Lauri’s Carbonara ($17) featured house-cured pancetta and creamy egg-based alfredo sauce tossed with fettuccini pasta and cracked black pepper, to which she added grilled chicken (an extra $5). She found it a tad too salty and heavy, but I felt it a welcome remedy to a raw evening.

The chill outside also influenced my choice, a robust Shrimp Fra Diavolo ($22). The dish came with five plump shellfish perfectly sautéed in a spicy (but not overwhelming) marinara sauce and fresh linguini pasta.

“We have a huge advantage of being in this part of the country,” said Perrino. “The seafood is so abundant, so fresh, and so local to here. We get daily deliveries almost right from the boats.”

Our waitress and the bartenders were very accommodating when it came to our wine selection, allowing us to sample several Italian reds before we settled on a complex cabernet from California, Avalon ($32), which nicely complemented both dishes.

For dessert, we treated ourselves to a decadent Mascarpone Mousse ($11) off the specials menu. The combination of brandy-soaked cherries, roasted hazelnuts and chocolate mouse was the ideal finishing touch.

Toscana Bar Italiano 90 Rantoul St., Beverly. 978-969-0165, toscanabaritaliano.com.

09nodine - ?Shrimp Fra Diavolo came with five plump shellfish perfectly sautŽed in a spicy (but not overwhelming) marinara sauce and fresh linguini pasta.? ? (Toscana Bar Italiano)
Toscana Bar Italiano
Shrimp Fra Diavolo came with five plump shellfish sauted in a spicy (but not overwhelming) marinara sauce and fresh linguini pasta.

Brion O’Connor can be reached at brionoc@verizon.net.