Food for Thought ...
Insider's Guide: Behind-the-scenes tours of Federal Hill are educational -- and fun

By Gail Ciampa. The Providence Journal, Providence, RI
April 20, 2005
Pg. G.01
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I know I can buy fresh ravioli on Federal Hill but I never much thought about how they got stuffed. I always admired the variety of foods on store shelves but didn't consider who was behind the choice. How could I have any idea how big the ovens baking bread and pastries are when they are so hidden from view?

All those things remained a mystery until I took a tour of Federal Hill with a guide who knows where the chocolates are hidden and the polenta lay waiting.

Cindy Salvato is that woman. A chef, teacher, cookbook author and lover of all things food, she weaves tours in and out of the kitchens and work rooms on Federal Hill for private groups as well as for the Learning Connection.

Her three-hour tours end a lot better than Gilligan's did, and with no islands involved. It's more likely for her guests to walk away intoxicated with the flavors, aromas and secrets of the Hill. And they are usually carrying little goody bags of cookies from Scialo's, a candy sample from Ocean State Chocolates and a mini antipasto from Venda Ravioli.

Salvato started doing the tour as part of her curriculum as a pastry instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

"I used to bribe the students that if we had perfect attendance, I'd take them up to Federal Hill to visit my friends and colleagues," she said. "It sometimes worked."

She found that a few hours spent with chefs and bakers and food buyers was indeed an education for the students. Plus, it was fun.

Two years ago she brought her tour to non-student groups, taking 12 at a time.

"It's about the people," said Salvato. "Each chef, each shop owner, each ravioli maker has their own personality. They all make it fun." She also makes it news you can use by pointing out that the anchovy paste on the shelf is essential to cook Pasta Foriana. Then at the end of the tour, she hands out the recipe for the dish from her The Dowry Cookbook.

After a few years doing the tours, no one seems surprised when Salvato comes calling. When she walks into Gasbarro's Wine, Frank Gasbarro often will serve a sampling of Lemoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, or a new wine that might have just arrived from Italy. He'll also talk about the pairing of wine and food.

At Tony's Colonial Market, they'll meet Antonio, Gina or Adrianne DiCicco, the family that stocks endless shelves of pasta and olive oils from around Italy, not to mention coffees and Italian spices and condiments. The refrigerated case shows off their homemade dried and cured Abruzzo sausage and Italian cheeses, prosciutto from Parma, stuffed peppers, olives and fresh sausage. Keep walking and there are all their stuffed pastas, including goat cheese and hot pepper gnocchi, and mushroom or prosciutto ravioli to take home. Finally, you spy the prepared foods, the eggplant and chicken and pastas ready to eat at one of the cafe tables that hug a front corner of the store.

Venda Ravioli is another Italian marketplace well known for all the fresh cheeses (baker Cosimo Dellatore makes his own mozzarella), prepared foods and fresh meat of the butcher shop. But it's those ravioli -- lobster, anyone? -- that make many pay a pilgrimage to Venda when the family is coming for dinner. So Salvato brings her tour across the street to the small building where four women she affectionately calls "the girls" make every ravioli by hand.

In this day of automation, it's hard to imagine such time goes into anything, but you know that's why these ravioli are so fine. Josephine Lomartire and her crew make more than 200 different fillings for ravioli that will be sold not just on the Hill, but sent off to restaurants around Rhode Island.


The fillings change by season, such as pumpkin for fall. They also make giant tortellini, the stuffed pastas shaped like a ring, and agnolotti, the ravioli in the form of a crescent moon. Venda owner Alan Costantino said sometimes restaurants make a ravioli for a dinner special and then find it's in demand but too much work. So they assign the job to his staff.

Just past the pasta room, baker Dellatore is done making bread for the day. Now he's doing the bread crumbs. The back room at Scialo Bros. Bakery is busy all day. Not only do the five staff bakers start in wee hours with the bread, they're still busy at noon making specialty treats like corn bread or all the seasonal rice pies at Easter time.

The brick ovens are fired at 800 degrees for all the baking that uses family recipes passed down by the Scialos. Sisters Lois Ellis and Carol Gaeta now run the bakery started by the their father and uncle (hence the "brothers" in the name).

Next door to Scialo's, Salvato changes the pace of the tour at Gallery Z. There she brings folks to admire the current exhibit on view. Gallery Z is a new business on the Hill, in contrast to the many two-generation ones like Scialo's.

Also new is Ocean State Chocolates. There, Bernadette Cicione will talk about her new truffle line and take everyone back to peek at her small work space, where she rolls and cuts everything by hand.

Visitors also stop at the Italian Center for Culture and Gastronomy at Walter Potenza's Aquaviva, where they enjoy an olive oil tasting. The tour isn't all about finished products. There's also a visit to Antonelli's Poultry, a real butcher shop, where many a restaurant gets the rabbit for its stew. They have many specialty birds and do a lot of butchering of poultry brought in for that very purpose by customers. Salvato calls it a cultural experience.

For the record, I still want this bit of mystery left a mystery: I don't want to see where the chickens become cutlets.

 * * *

Here's Cindy Salvato's recipe for Pasta Foriana from The Dowry Cookbook.


Copyright Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin Apr 20, 2005

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