Drive by at night, Wakefield’s newest Italian eatery opened last October, and one of the first things you'll notice are the warm, welcoming lights. Then the smiling, packed crowds inside, especially if it’s a Friday or Saturday night.
One bite and you’ll know why. Sabatino’s is like Wakefield’s version of “Cheers,” Italian style. It’s not gourmet, nor out to impress. It doesn’t need to be. Sophisticated, without an air of snobbiness, crowds of all sorts intermingle at the black granite bar and throughout at the various sized tables.
Like Cheers, members of the Sabatino family just might know your name. Though new to Wakefield, the Italian eatery was previously located in Malden on Route 99 for fourteen years. Six years ago, owners William “Billy” and Angie Sabatino closed that location. Today, they run two Sabatino's restaurants in conjuction with their three adult children, son Joseph at Sabatino’s in Derry, NH, and Carmela and Anthony both at Wakefield.
Billy and son Anthony serve as the chefs in Wakefield, and their mission is to make sure there’s something to please just about everybody on the menu.
For starters, there’s soups like Escarole with Pastina and Pasta e’ Fagioli ($2.95 for small, $4.95 for large); appetizers include an Italian Anitpasto ($12.95), Broccoli Margarita ($6.95) and Clams Casino ($8.95).
Pasta dishes ranging from $8.95 to $13.95 offer a choice of pasta (spaghetti, linguini, or ziti) served with a simple marinara or meat sauce, to a clam or calamari sauce. For lunch,paninis are a good choice at $8.95 and up. Italian classics like Gnocchi, Manicotti, and Fusilli (all $9.95) are served by friendly and attentive (without being bothersome) wait staff.
More expensive are the house specialties: a tempting Veal Saltimbocca ($18.95), tender slices of veal stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, dipped in an egg batter and pan-fried and sauteed in wine, served with a dinner salad.
A friend and I visited for a late lunch recently and were quietly surprised by the array of luncheon menu choices. The day we went in, at a large round table in the front corner window, sat a group of six businesswomen were dressed to the nines, out “doing” lunch. Next to them, a casually dressed couple ate quietly, talking intently. In the back of the restaurant, a few more tables were filled.
Sitting at the bar, a truckload or two of blue collar workers came in from the cold outdoors for a warm lunch. Why not? It’s like eating at Mama’s on Sunday. Consistent delivery of good food at reasonable prices and perfectly sized portions. Not too much, not too little. More than enough to satisfy your appetite (and maybe leave just enough for leftovers at lunch the next day.)
It was hard to decide what to have, so we agreed to sample a few meals and share. We began with the Eggplant Rotolini appetizer ($6.95), one of my favorites and not often found on menus. Almost a meal unto itself, three rotolini, thin slices of lightly crispy eggplant rolled around a soft, creamy Riccota cheese filling, were served on a white oval plate, then covered in a simple red sauce that was fresh, not too spicy or salty.
Next, we shared a second appetizer, Mozzarella Caprese ($6.95), the slices of fresh mozzarella layered between slices of red tomatoe and basil, along with a good-sized Rustico Salad ($6.95) of tossed greens with walnuts, red onion, blue cheese, and flecks of more crispy eggplant. By now, we were starting to feel full.
Then our lunches arrived. Spaghetti Carbonara, one of my favorite pasta dishes, was my choice for lunch. The long spaghetti nested in a large white bowl, swirled and coated with a creamy egg sauce and small chunks of pancetta. I added sprinkles of freshly grated parmesan cheese from a jar on the table. The portion didn’t look overwhelming, but I found I couldn’t finish it. (Good. Something leftover for lunch the next day.) My friend’s Chicken Pepper Panini ($7.95) came with green, not red, roasted peppers and a side pasta salad. Again, it was good, but she could only eat half.
When the bill arrived, there was more surprise. For about $20 each, not including drinks, we each had had more than a full and satisfying meal and left sans an appetite for dinner, happy to have in hand small bags of leftovers for lunch the next day.
Our only regret? Not indulging in the menu from the full bar, like the well-dressed ladies we watched at the corner table. But we were on a mission.
So a new plan is in place -- return again with our husbands (and let them drive.)
Because Sabatino's, you had us at first bite. Mangia!
Note: Children are welcome, with menu selections like Ziti with meatball to Chicken Parmigiana ($5.95 to $6.95). Dinner menus and takeout menus are available. A website is currently under construction.