Unforeseen Memorable Moments: A Left Turn in Providence into Italy

Unforeseen Memorable Moments: A Left Turn in Providence into Italy

A Journey into Hidden America - A Narrative from On the Road

Like in life, some of the best moments on the road are those that just arise unanticipated and unexpectedly.

These unplanned moments turn out to be the most precious and lasting memories. They are for more fulfilling than scripted moments and tend to compensate for those planned moments that too often just don’t work out as one had hoped.

I share with you such a moment recently experienced.

After a quick drop off and good bye in Providence, it was going to be a brief bite locally before going on to our next destination.

We had heard of the renaissance of Providence and had previously come to see some of it for ourselves in this small city of under 200,000.

An uncovering and rediscovery of the river had turned it into an attractive destination downtown. Home of five colleges, thanks to one (the culinary program at Johnson and Wales) it boasts a robust restaurant scene.

We had read of the existence of a "Little Italy", so since it was lunch time we took a short ride down Atwells Avenue in search of some pizza, pasta and salad.

We found some delicious food. But we were pleasantly surprised by a gem of a neighborhood - the "Little Italy" set in the midst of Federal Hill.

The place dates back to 1788. It is said to have gotten its name that year after a 1788 Fourth of July ox roast celebration on the plain adjacent to the hill.

The 1870s saw the first arrival of immigrants from southern Italy, with greater numbers arriving in the next two decades. By 1895, the Hill was divided almost evenly between Irish and Italians. The first two decades of the 20th century witnessed heavy Italian-American immigration into Federal Hill, making it the city's informal Little Italy. Though the area today is more diverse, Federal Hill still retains its status as the traditional center for the city's Italian-American community. Providence's annual Columbus Day parade marches down Atwells Avenue. The center line is painted in the colors of the Italian flag.

Today  Atwells Avenue has over twenty restaurants within a quarter mile section - many Italian but a range of international and eclectic variety as well.

Entering the neighborhood on Atwells Avenue from downtown one passes  under a large sculpture of a pine cone, called La Pigna, which hangs above. as a symbol of welcome and abundance.

The heart of the neighborhood is DePasquale Square. A large central fountain is surrounded by outdoor seating, colorfully-painted buildings, and even seagulls help create the feeling of a Mediterranean piazza. Numerous restaurants, serving Italian-inspired cuisine from all regions of Italy, fill the streets surrounding the square.

There are specialty stores in the neighborhood like Antonelli Poultry, where savvy cooks can purchase chickens wholesale and rabbit, and ravioli stores which stand alongside bakeries and cafes where diners enjoy both espressos and an Ocean State classic, pizza strips -- consisting only of pizza dough topped with spicy tomato sauce.

Better yet when we visited at lunch, the neighborhood - though bustling with young and old had a comfortable and relaxed feel of a real neighborhood - not a tourist destination. Convenient and free on street parking could even be found just a short walk away.

Sometimes the advance hype of a neighborhood can leave the actual visitor disappointed. This time the hype was well-founded. This neighborhood met expectations and more.

It was an online poster at Trip Advisor who perhaps put it best,

"“I took a left turn in Providence and ended up in Italy”.