Although I managed to find my own (rare) parking space on Atwells Avenue, I had a chat with the valet in front Andino’s who, when I asked him what was good, exclaimed without hesitation, “Snails!”
It’s hard to pick which Italian restaurant to visit among the dozen or more in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence, but the snail factor had me in the door at Andino’s and on the way to a table. The waiter beamed when I ordered snails without his prompting and when they arrived, he pointed out what a connoisseur of this unique Rhode Island specialty will recognize immediately: Andino’s snails are different. Typical Ocean State snails are sliced pepperoni-thin and marinated in garlicky dressing. Andino’s are cut into bite-size chunks and served on a bed of lettuce with no adornment other than a couple of lemon wedges. Cruets of oil and vinegar come alongside and hot sauce is available, but these snails need to be tasted with nothing more than a drop or two of fresh lemon juice. They have a gentle marine sweetness (they are ocean snails, not like in the garden!) and their dense meat provides just enough tooth resistance to make chewing fun. One appetizer-size serving is enough for at least two people.
As familiar as snail salad is strange, linguine aglio e olio is another Andino’s winner. Hefty al dente noodles arrive swimming in oil with a rational measure of garlic. It’s a comfort-food meal unless you pay a few dollars extra to add the salty kick of anchovies. The good linguine also is available with clams or clam sauce (red or white), meatballs or sausage. Beyond pasta (which includes manicotti, ravioli, lasagna and even fried ravioli appetizers), Andino’s menu covers a full spectrum of Italian-American food from chicken parm to veal saltimbocca.
Atmosphere is pure Providence, decor a scrapbook of Rat Pack posters and the sort of Italian-American pop culture stereotypes that the Sons of Italy don’t like, including pictures from The Godfather and Frank Sinatra’s famous Bergen County mug shot. We ate our snails to the tune of “That’s Amore” on the house sound system and leftovers were packaged and put in black bags that had the sheen of a Tony Soprano dress shirt.
Note: although credit cards are accepted, the menu asks that gratuities be paid in cash.