Several years ago, this Johnston eatery was home to neighborhood favorite Café Andiamo. Staff of the former restaurant reopened the space as Café Vino after its predecessor closed. The restaurant was completely full when we went, including several large parties, but the small staff was efficient and the dishes came out of the kitchen quickly.
Once we were seated, our server – who also happened to be one of the owners – welcomed us with a bread basket and a generous swirl of spicy olive oil (regular is available for the heat-averse). We started with the Pasticcio appetizer: a casserole with grilled eggplant, prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato sauce. It was a large appetizer for the two of us, but we didn’t complain, each greedily cutting off pieces until the plate was clean.
Café Vino has a quirky casual vibe that isn’t typical of an Italian restaurant with such a classic menu. Despite the decidedly Tuscan maroon and mustard color scheme and wine-themed chalkboard illustration, quirks like mismatched dinner plates and the hilarious bathroom decor provide the type of whimsy you wouldn’t be surprised to find in a funky college-town coffee shop.
Next, we ordered a Caesar salad. This, too, had a touch of quirk, with a giant slice of parmesan and garlic crusted bread in place of croutons. It was liberally dressed and had a great anchovy flavor.
The entrees at Café Vino are total classics, from Marsala to Picatta to Milanese, available with a variety of meats. My husband had the Veal Parmigiana: standard but delicious, with a generous piece of veal, ample breading and plenty of tomato sauce and cheese. I had to have the Chicken Saltimbocca, a dish close to my heart because my mother has made it since my childhood. Three large pieces of chicken breast were pounded thin and topped with prosciutto and melted provolone, garnished with several plump roasted mushrooms. The brothy white wine sauce was full of flavor, and we couldn’t resist asking for more bread to soak up the sauce. This may have been the best version of Saltimbocca I’ve ever had (apologies to Mom), with incredibly tender chicken and so many complementary flavors.
With both of our dishes, we had a side of pasta. We liked the homemade linguine, and next time I plan to order it with aglio e olio, or olive oil and garlic. The restaurant also regularly makes their own gnocchi, and lists any other homemade pasta options on the chalkboard.
We brought a bottle of wine, but noted that many of the tables around us were taking BYOB to the next level with large coolers and even cocktails. The restaurant was correspondingly lively, with plenty of laughter and animated conversation. I doubt there was a diner there who would have rather been somewhere else.
We finished the evening with two desserts. A rotating dessert menu includes at least one homemade selection and several sourced options, like the wonderful lemon sorbet in a lemon. We had the Chocolate Lava Cake, which was oozing the way it should be, and the Chocolate Chip Crème Brûlée, a fun version of the standard. The dishes at Café Vino are well worth a visit. If you’re going on a Friday or Saturday, a reservation is a must. And so is your cooler.
235 Greenville Ave, Johnston • 349-2680