I'm a sucker for Italian fare like crudo, chitarra nero, and perfectly charred octopus, but every so often nothing hits the spot like a hearty bowl of spaghetti alla Bolognese or a generous portion of savory lasagna. That's what Pane e Vino is all about: classic Italian comfort food.
For several years, the downtown location has plated up respectable Italian without a lot of fuss. A few months back, owner Alfredo Temelini expanded to Mt. Pleasant, taking over a property with some Italian history, as the building was originally a Pizza Hut, then the locally owned Sette. From the outside, it still resembles a Pizza Hut, even though it's been painted a sea-green and no longer sports a red roof. An Italian flag waving near the entry adds a nice touch.
Inside, a dimly lit room is illuminated by a central chandelier that provides subtle ambiance to the candelit tables draped in white. A small bar sits off to the side of the large and uncluttered dining room. The space is far more welcoming than Sette was, but the bustle of the Coleman traffic visible through the windows had me yearning for the intimate alfresco dining at the downtown location.
That restaurant, on Warren Street, has an outdoor patio, strung with lights and shrouded by trees and vines, that's private and completely secluded from the street. It's the single greatest difference between the two locations. On a clear night in the spring or fall, that twinkling patio downtown is the ultimate dining venue. In Mt. Pleasant a few tables sit outside the main door, but the lack of privacy and the close proximity to a busy street crushes the atmosphere.
The same simple Italian comfort food is available in both locales. In fact, the menu isn't much different at all. A good bowl of gnocchi goes for 16 bucks, and a big portion of the lasagna is $14.50. On a recent visit we enjoyed a rich bowl of penne, spicy sausage, and wild mushrooms tossed in light cream sauce with pecorino romano ($15) along with a special of pappardelle in a savory braised lamb shank ragu ($22). Each dish also gets the royal parsley garnish treatment.
The service is friendly, but some details need attention. On multiple occasions — at both locations — I've had wine delivered to me in a glass with soap or lipstick residue. A quick polishing before delivery would be nice.
Like its downtown counterpart, the Mt. Pleasant location offers a good selection of Italian wines by the glass and the bottle, though I'd stay away from the house red ($7/glass, $18/half-liter, $33/liter), as it's reminiscent of Trader Joe's infamous two-buck Chuck.
I'm glad Pane e Vino has retained its classic menu. Now I don't have to travel too far to get one of the best slices of tiramisu in town, and if I'm craving a simple bowl of homemade spaghetti, I know where to go. The ambiance on Coleman Boulevard will never be the same as its counterpart, but since we're rolling into the hot summer months, now's the time to check out the Pane in Mt. Pleasant and save yourself from the sticky summer heat.