How is it that a restaurant as spectacular as Casa della Luce escaped my notice for an entire year? The Westerly eatery celebrated its first anniversary in June, but for its first 360 days or so, I didn’t even know it existed. If it weren’t for the suggestion of a pleasant lady at the local Chamber of Commerce, I still might be stuck in the rut of eating at the same old restaurants in downtown.
Tucked inside Westerly’s forgotten shopping center, the one on Franklin Street across from JCPenney, Casa della Luce is a serious contender for the title of Best Restaurant in Town. The kitchen makes its own pasta, and it won a pasta cook-off this spring against such longtime favorites as Guytanno’s and Vetrano’s, its competitors down the road. Casa della Luce is also winning over fans of what it boldly claims is the best pizza in town. The afternoon we visited, the kitchen was busy prepping pies for a graduation party at a nearby school. Indeed, the menu warrants a taste if you find yourself hungry this summer on your way to or from the beaches in Misquamicut.
Our visit got off to an appetizing start as soon as we arrived. Warm aromas, probably from all those baking pizzas, greeted us as we walked through the door. Our waitress greeted us just as warmly and served us cheerfully from start to finish.
We devoured a plate of “sausage and rabe” ($7), perhaps the perfect appetizer. Slices of sweet Italian sausage, seared to a heavenly crispness around the edges, made fireworks with tender broccoli rabe and a crusted polenta cake adorned with a sharp goat cheese, sweet red and green pickled peppers, and a tangy splash of balsamic—so many flavors that it was hard to keep track.
The sausage, which the restaurant gets from—where else—Westerly Packing Co. was juicy and fatty and immediately called to mind the addictive flavor of the best of Westerly’s homemade soupy. The menu also offers this dish in sandwich form ($6), which is a frighteningly brilliant idea. A small bowl of minestrone ($5) completed our warm-up for our entrées, which were superb.
One of them, the cavatelli with cauliflower cream sauce ($13), was quite possibly the best use of cauliflower I’ve ever tasted. Cauliflower rarely gets the appreciation it deserves, but this dish promises to impress even the most finicky vegetable-haters. Unlike so many half-hearted attempts to make cauliflower more palatable by frying it or smothering it to death with cheese, this plate maxed out the cauliflower flavor in a comfort-food extravaganza.
Homemade cavatelli, dense and toothy, laved in a thick cauliflower puree beside heirloom purple, green, and golden cauliflower florets. The cream sauce tasted of bacon, or actually pancetta, and somewhat smoky, perhaps from the cheeses used in the dish, and an ultralight breading, more like a dusting, added a crystalline crunch on top. A sprig of basil lent some color, and a bulky garlic knot was handy for sponging up the last of the sauce.
Even better, though, was the truffled steak. A towering tenderloin wore a crown of herbed and peppered mascarpone that melted before our eyes, trickling slowly over the beef and onto a bed of fettuccini. Touched with white truffle oil, a light brown marsala demi cream sauce generously coated the noodles, again homemade, and tasted slightly mustardy. Crimini mushrooms added to the earthiness, and chewy sundried tomatoes contributed an exclamation point of tangy sweetness. The kitchen cooked the tenderloin to a perfect medium-rare, and another garlic knot filled the last remaining space in our stomachs. At $19, the truffled steak is the most expensive dish on the menu. That’s terrific news—keep your prices under $20 and you’ll keep customers like me coming back.
I took home a couple other items for supper, including an arancinu, or risotto ball ($3 each). Golden-brown and crispy on the outside, arancini are a Sicilian specialty. About the size of a baseball, mine was stuffed with Bolognese (appropriately light on the tomato), peas, and a little mozzarella. A couple of these and you can call it a meal.
A chicken parmesan sandwich ($6) made for a filling meal all by itself. Another customer at Casa della Luce insisted their chicken parm is the best around, so I felt compelled to try it. While her claim is debatable, my sandwich left me entirely satisfied. The fresh, fluffy bulky roll measured nearly eight inches long, and every inch of it was filled with tender chicken breast in a breading as light as the menu promised. With only modest amounts of mozzarella and marinara, the sandwich wasn’t as messy as I like but it was delicious nonetheless.
From beginning to end, every part of my experience at Casa della Luce was excellent. It won’t take me another 365 days to return.
Casa della Luce
105 Franklin Street, Westerly, RI 02891
Hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 10:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.