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Cafe Assisi: A Wrentham Mainstay for a Decade - TV Diner

Known throughout the Wrentham, Massachusetts region for its take-out, Cafe Assisi is also primo when it comes to in-house dining. With its rustic walls decorated by framed photos of the owners' family and friends, this small unassuming room with a mere half-dozen tables exudes the warmth and aromas that would make any Italian grandmother proud.

Our meal begins with an antipasto of mixed greens and Italian cold cuts. Cafe Assisi puts its signature on this classic starter with the addition of grilled onions and sweet balsamic vinegar.

On to the enormous calzone. The tender pocket of golden dough stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, parmigiana and sweet sausage was a meal for two in itself. The star ingredients of veal, spinach, prosciutto and mozzarella in the veal Florentine were somewhat overpowered by an abundance of sweet sherry wine sauce...but we loved the angel hair! Succulent best describes a heaping plate of Bolognese, a hearty blend of pasta, and meat sauce, three cheeses and a dash of cream.

For dessert we chose two house favorites.

The cannoli held up to tradition with its crisp shell and creamy ricotta filling while the generous slice of carrot cake was a bit on the dry side.

Cafe Assisi is one bustling bistro, but despite the fast pace our delightful server dished up plenty of friendly and attentive service.

Salads, calzones and pizza are in the $10 range; entrees range from $11 to $23; and desserts average $5.

For its casual comfort and vast menu offerings worthy of a swanky down-town eatery....Cafe Assisi will earn the Gold Plate.

Globe West

Boston Sunday Globe - May 15, 2005

If there's one thing Cafe Assisi owner Dereck DiBiase would like more of, it's space - more tables for guests, a bigger waiting area, and more room for the steady stream of takeout customers.

Diners huddle in three booths and around four tables while a solitary waitress slaloms around a line of customers waiting to sit down and another group picking up takeout. The close quaters make for a high noise level. And there's one unisex bathroom.

But the food is good, homemade, and reasonably priced, and servers, wearing black T-shirts with "Ciao" stenciled in gold, are courteous and cheerful.

DiBiase is a protege of Luciano Canova, who has carved out quite a culinary reputation in the south western suburbs, with Luciano's restaurant on Route 1 in Wrentham and Lake Pearl Luciano's a historic lakeside function facility in the same town. DiBiase worked for Canova for eight years before leaving to run his own place.

Arriving at 7 p.m. on a Thursday, we waited about 20 minutes for a table. In warm weather, diners can enjoy a drink and an appetizer on an outside patio.

Once we were seated, the waitress water, wine, good crusty bread, and a salad of iceberg lettuce, olives, tomato, and cucumber. The homemade house dressing is a honey-based balsamic vinaigrette, which we found a little too sweet.

It was more than half an hour before our entrees arrived, but they were worth the wait. Baked stuffed shells ($10) were excellent, four fat shells with a firm ricotta filling, topped with mozzarella, served piping hot. They were bathed in one of the best marinara sauces we have tasted in several years of scoping out the plethora of Italian restaurants in the area; rich and slightly chunky, it had a silky smoothness that comes from long, slow simmering.

Chicken piccata ($14) was light and lemony, the sauce with just enough body to coat the chicken breast pieces and ziti; in this rendition, the chicken was not breaded or fried. We also tried chicken marsala ($13), a lighter version than the usual, with a sweet sauce and lots of mushrooms.

An antipasto salad ($10) combined soft, fresh greens with a generous topping of Italian meats and cheeses, caramalized onions, black olives, artichoke hearts, and a stuffed cherry pepper.

Mediterraneo salad ($9) was a standard assembly of mixed greens, tomato, red onion, cucumber, black olives, and a few balls of fresh mozzarella.

Wine was a bargain at around $4 a glass for chianti, cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, pinot grigio, or zinfandel.

Assisi is justly renowned for its calzones. The traditional Italian calzone ($10) was a bruiser of a pie, bursting with a ricotta, mozzarella, and sweet Italian sausage. Unfortunately, the ricotta overwhelmed the other ingredients; one diner called it "too much of a good one thing."

We preferred Kristin's calzone ($13), with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, black olives, chicken, and just enough cheese to hold it all together. The Venice calzone ($12) combined sweet sausage with an abundance of red peppers and provolone.

Margarita pizza ($8) had a great chewy-crisp crust, with the flavor of fresh basil and mozzarella. Other pizzas include roasted vegetable, grilled chicken, and a white pizza with pesto sauce and caramelized onions.

Cafe Assisi hosts several wine dinners a year in conjunction with Wampum Corner Liquors across the street. The next one is scheduled for sometime in july.

Nearly half the restaurant's business is takeout, said DiBiase, and for our money, this just may be the best way to enjoy Cafe Assisi's authentic Italian cuisine.