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Globe North Dining Out

Small Italian spot in Wakefield comes up big on portions, taste

October 5, 2008
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Caffé Amore
24 Vernon St., Wakefield
781-213-9355.
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday,. 4-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5-9 p.m.
Handicapped-accessible
All major credit cards accepted

We heard a rumor that Caffé Amore, a small Italian restaurant in Wakefield, might be closing. A friend who lives in Wakefield feared the news might be true, especially because the restaurant already had limited its hours.

But when we visited Amore on a recent weekday night, we were assured by our server that the five-year-old restaurant run by Terry Barrasso would not be closing anytime soon, even though its lease is up next month.

That's a good thing, because if Caffé Amore ever closed its doors for good, Wakefield would lose one of its most comfy, out-of-the-way spots for dates and family dinners.

Caffé Amore could be described as a hole in the wall - in a good way. It's not on the town's main drag, so you have to make a commitment to find it. Once you're there, in that small retail strip the restaurant shares with Wakefield Kitchen & Bath, you'll find just enough space for a few couples or groups. Amore's homemade décor and BYOB policy make dining at the restaurant feel like eating in a friend's kitchen.

We started our meal with three appetizers - arrosti gamberi ($11), artichoke Milanese ($9), and eggplant rollitini ($7).

The first dish was a plate of massive shrimp, heavy focaccia bread, and a spicy dipping sauce. When you see "spicy" on Caffé Amore's menu, take it seriously. I made the mistake of slathering my shrimp in the red sauce, and after one bite, my sinuses were cleared. Use the dip sparingly.

If you're an artichoke lover (or trying to avoid dairy and carbs), you may want to think about getting the Milanese appetizer as a meal. The sautéed artichoke hearts, which had an egg-batter coating, were served in a tangy white wine sauce. The bowl was huge.

Proving that giant portions are the rule at this place, the eggplant appetizer also could have made an ample dinner. The rolls were packed with ricotta and topped with mozzarella and marinara. It's more about the cheese than the eggplant.

My companion had one of the night's specials, haddock in lemon sauce ($21). She asked for just a little bit of pasta on the side, and, not surprisingly, wound up with a heaping pile of spaghetti under the fish. The caper-spotted meal was light and fresh with more of the artichoke-lemon marinade.

Risotto primavera ($19) wasn't light at all. In fact, it was as heavy as Irish oatmeal. The stick-to-your-ribs dish might be incredible on a snowy night, but it's more for fans of macaroni and cheese than risotto. The primavera part of the plate came in the form of asparagus, mushrooms, and tart sun-dried tomatoes.

With the exception of cannoli, Amore's desserts aren't made in house, but they're worth trying. Almond cake ($6) recommended by our server Kathy, was exactly as she described it - like a more interesting, crumbly tiramisu. Lemon sorbet ($5) was topped with a pile of whipped cream. That's my kind of palate cleanser.

Thanks to the BYOB policy, it's easy to keep it cheap at Amore. With three appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts, we spent less than $100. A dinner for two could easily be kept under $40, and even if you spend more, you'll probably leave with doggie bags that will feed you for the rest of the week.

That's just the kind of deal you want from a cozy neighborhood restaurant you hope never closes.

MEREDITH GOLDSTEIN

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