Federal Hill Neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island

by JudithG

by Judith Glynn. See pasta being made. Nibble on biscotti. Sample Italian wines. Take a culinary shopping tour. Federal Hill is a satisfying foodie and sightseeing adventure.

Mangia, Rhode Island-style, for many locals and visitors to America's smallest state is a trip to Atwells Avenue on Providence's Federal Hill. It's the state's "Little Italy" district, which is right off Route 95 and steps from downtown. Since the early 1900s when approximately 54,000 Italian immigrants landed in Rhode Island and pushcarts lined the streets, Federal Hill still holds its own for authentic Italian dining and food shopping.

Many Federal Hill's merchants grew up on "The Hill" in Italian families where recipes were handed down through generations. Today, those traditions offer a delicious example of culinary tourism at its best.

Walking and Shopping Tour of Federal Hill

A top-notch, behind-the-scenes glimpse of some Federal Hill shops, and to meet their owners, is to sign up for Cindy Salvato's "Shopping Federal Hill: An Insider's Tour" or call 401-934-2149. Cindy Salvato with Tour ParticipantsShe has a flowery gift of gab and knows her stuff, having been a pastry-chef instructor at Providence's Johnson & Wales Culinary School in addition to other accolades. Rain or shine, every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., Cindy awaits her tour participants in DePasquale Square, which is the iconic heartbeat of The Hill. For three hours (price is $50), they follow her through several stores, sample food, sip wine and learn about countless Italian products. A special feature is a balsamic vinegar and olive oil tasting along the way. And do expect shopkeepers to step in for more in-depth explanations about their shop and its family's Italian ties.

Venda Ravioli

This family-owned business has made its own pasta for over 70 years, branching out to prepared foods, artisan bread, quality meats and imported cheeses. Some ravioli choices range from plain to gourmet lobster to pumpkin filled. No detail is overlooked here. The recipes of today are the same quality ingredients as yesterday's. A small dining area is in the back of the store and another is outside in DePasquale Square to complete an al fresco Italian experience. Condiments; notable RI products; kitchen utensils and quality memorabilia are also sold here. The sales people are pros with cooking hints. 

Venda Ravioli Pasta Maker
Venda Ravioli Pasta Maker
Tony's Colonial Market Cheese Selection
Tony's Colonial Market Cheese Selection

Tony's Colonial Market

There's the quaint touch of an Italian home at Tony's where a few tables are clustered under a TV set broadcasting an Italian station. Venture in a few steps and  thousands of Italian products line the shelves -- everything from first-press, extra-virgin olive oil to imported pasta to Italian pottery to expensive DOP balsamic vinegar from Italy to wooden spoons and fancy aprons. But it's Tony's long cases of take-out food prepared by chef Sylvana that's the show-stopper, plus the imported cheeses and home-made prosciutto.

Antonelli Poultry is More Than Chickens and Eggs

Antonelli's appears to be a narrow shop selling poultry products and can goods. But it's the clucking and fluttering feathers behind the plastic curtain that tells the real story and why thousands of chickens are sold here weekly, along with rabbit, partridge, duck and geese. It's the only Rhode Island store left that processes poultry while the customer waits. Tony Antonelli does a mini show-and-tell presentation of how to purchase eggs, along with introducing live poultry. Shoppers can go behind that plastic curtain for a first-hand look at a shop from yesteryear. 

Cocorico, c.1899
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Scialo Bros. Bakery

Two daughters of the original owner run Scialo's today. A tour stop here leads straight to the back room lined with three brick ovens from the early 1900s. Fired once in the morning and then shut down, the retained heat throughout the day bakes Italian breads, biscotti, the bakery's renown butter rum cake, cookies and more. Carol (Scialo) Gaeta tells the family's tale while her helpers demonstrate how to make confectionery flowers and roll out bread dough. Scialo's is the only original Federal Hill bakery left. And they still make cannoli shells by hand. The front part of the store is fairy-tale-like with its drawers of Italian candies and cases of pastries. 

Gasbarro's Wines

Family-owned for three generations and 110 years old, Gasbarro's Wines was instrumental in introducing Italian wines into Rhode Island and beyond. Today, the store has the country's largest selection of Italian wines. Italian producers, such as Lazzaroni, rub elbows with the Gasbarros when they visit the store to thank the family for supporting their brand. And the only U.S. distributor of 90-proof Punch Abruzzo, a favorite of older Italians and used often as an after-dinner digestivo, hails from Cleveland. He loads up his car and drives to Gasbarro's to hand-deliver the cases. A Gasbarro wine specialist  helps describe the selections.

If You Go

Trip Advisor raves about historic Federal Hill.  For the state's official tourism information, contact Visit Rhode Island or call toll free to 800-556-2484. There's more to Providence than Federal Hill. The award-winning state capital at the top of Narragansett Bay has four centuries of history. The city is believed to have a larger percentage of buildings on the National Historic Register than any other U.S. city representing immaculately preserved Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes and buildings.

Updated: 11/24/2013, JudithG
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PeggyHazelwood on 05/14/2013

I would love to visit the shop making ravioli. I love watching things being made. What a fun area Federal Hill seems to be.

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