Restaurant Reviews

Santoro’s Sicilian Trattoria Review

June 17, 2014 by tablecritic in Restaurant Reviews

By Rachel Lebeaux:  Some restaurant operators shy away from the front of the house. Not Tina Santoro Asmar, who has headed up Santoro’s Sicilian Trattoria in Dedham since it opened in 2008. The sassy chef exudes warmth, conviviality and a delicious repertoire of classic Italian — Sicilian, she emphasizes — specialties in a lunch-counter atmosphere (the deli caters, too).

Eating here really feels like visiting an Italian mother’s home kitchen. “That was my plan,” said Asmar, whose family ran Santoro’s Bakery in Roslindale for many years. Tina grew up working in the kitchen, and “when I opened this place, it all came back to me,” she said. Her creations were tested on her family members, with many menu items bearing their names.

You might have caught Tina on “Bon Apetina,” her cooking show seen on Dedham Community Television. She’s got a made-for-TV personality, and as a whirlwind tour of her menu makes clear, her food backs up the bravado.

Sandwiches:  The Agostina Sr. sandwich ($7) features Boar’s Head mortadella, Genoa salami, sweet cappicola, prosciutto, provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. The meat really gave this sandwich some heft without leaving me feeling stuffed to the gills. It’s served on a freshly baked foot-long baguette from Piantedosi bread, and the deli buys fresh vegetables every day from Russo’s Market in Watertown. 

The Bianca ($6.50), the deli’s take on the caprese, contains Boar’s Head mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. The quality of ingredients is evident — these were some of the biggest basil leaves I’ve ever seen — and the olive oil sweet and robust. Somebody was a little liberal with the salt shaker on this particular sandwich, but otherwise, the elements pulled together marvelously.

From the catering menu: Browned cutlets of chicken parmigiana, simmered in a sweet marinara sauce (“a little sugar” is key to the recipe, Tina said), are substantial, and the shredded mozzarella on top practically oozes down the side.

Eggplant parmigiana is smothered in the same sauce and mozzarella, the breaded, beautiful purple eggplant peeking out from under the chunky marinara.

A slice of made-from-scratch lasagna is the size of a brick, a many-layered concoction with more of that flavorful tomato sauce, as well as ground beef and shaved cheese. All of these items spelled “family gathering” to me, and are dishes I would happily order (and eat) by the tray.

Pizza:  The potato pizza ($3/slice) gets a lot of raves. It’s a preparation Tina stumbled across as a teenager passing through a train station in Florence. To that recipe, “I added béchamel, which makes it stupendous,” she said. Thin slices of red potato poke through a layer of parmesan and mozzarella cheese, studded with rosemary and garlic and drizzled with olive oil. The thick, crispy crust is the perfect base.

Desserts: “You’re a dessert girl, I can tell,” Tina said with a laugh as she started plating some of her greatest hits. Actually, I’m usually not a dessert fanatic, but hers certainly brought out that quality in me.

In front of my eyes, Tina filled cannoli ($2-$2.50) with a blend of mascarpone and ricotta  touched up with a little almond extract, and showered her creations with powdered sugar. Both the regular and chocolate-dipped varieties were fantastic, on par with any cannoli I’ve sampled in the Boston area.

The twice-baked biscotti ($2 each), tinged with such flavors as lemon, almond and anisette, had the perfect texture, firm enough to hold their form, malleable enough to bite into with a satisfying crunch without needing to gnaw. “This, with a cup of coffee, will make your eyes roll,” Tina said, and I see nothing to make me dispute that assessment.

Whoopie pies, oversized versions of that childhood favorite, are airy chocolate buns teetering under the weight of their cream filling. The oblong buns are airy; the cream light and luscious.

Doodles ($3.50 each) are one of Tina’s signatures. A mound of devil’s food cake, unbelievably moist and chocolate-y and coated with an additional layer of chocolate, split open to reveal such fillings as peanut-butter, fluff and lemon frosting. Decadent doesn’t begin to describe these. “These have been a major hit — as many as I make, they go,” she said.

Assessment:  “For such a small place, just an amazing amount of stuff comes out of there. I’m the most unlikely person to step into my father’s footsteps, but here I am,” Tina said. Santoro’s Sicilian Trattoria is indeed in a nondescript building, making the variety and flavors the kitchen rolls out in both sweet and savory items doubly impressive. So, be sure to stop by for a sandwich, a doodle and a chat with the lady of the kitchen.

Address: 211 Bridge Street, Dedham, MA 02026
Phone: 781-329-3354
Cuisine: Italian
Price: Sandwiches $6.50-$8.25; desserts $2 and up; inquire about catering prices
Hours: Mon.-Weds.: 10am-5pm; Thurs.-Fri.: 10am-7pm; Sat.: 10am-5pm
Features: Catering menu, cake design, full menu of sandwiches, pasta dishes and desserts
Recommendations: Agostina Sr. and Bianca sandwiches, chicken and eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, potato pizza, cannoli, biscotti, whoopie pie, doodles

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