WHO’S IN CHARGE Michael Palmer, the owner of Fusilli’s Cucina in Reading, is no stranger to restaurants. He grew up in Winchester, helping out at Neno’s Market, an Italian grocery run by his mother’s family. He recalled going out to bakeries early Sunday mornings with his cousins and auntsto buy homemade doughnuts and fresh bread to sell.
“We have that food retail thing in our blood, I guess,” Palmer said.
At 30, he opened his first restaurant and has operated a few establishments since. (He sold Stearns & Hill’s Bistro in Melrose in late August.).
Fusilli’s, a casual Italian eatery, is Palmer’s second concept in the same space. First, he opened as Sam’s Bistro, an upscale steakhouse, but eventually went back to his Italian roots, changing the name and menu in 2015. The name is a nod to his youngest daughter, Kathryn, whose curls resemble fusilla, the spiral-shaped pasta.
Palmer’s family — his wife Amy, and children Sarah, Anthony, Michael, and Kathryn — all pitch in. “Bus tables, serve tables, host, prep, clean,” said Palmer, now 50. “It’s a lot of work.”
THE LOCALE A stone’s throw from Interstate 93 on Route 28, Fusilli’s is a welcome throwback, with a neon sign and tiny green and red lights wrapped around a tree that bespeak the family lineage more than any holiday.
There’s a bar with about 15 stools and tall cocktail tables. Enter through draped curtains and you’ll find a dining room of dark wood and comfy dark red booths. Pasta plates and bowls on the walls add classy kitsch.
Our server was friendly, helpful, and did not push us out — even when we were the last ones to leave.
ON THE MENU Choices feature Italian classics, including pizza, pastas, meats, chicken, and seafood. A bowl of marinara sauce arrived with our soft Scali bread (local from Colarusso’s Bakery) and butter. It’s Palmer’s grandmother’s 12-hour sauce. “Most Italians won’t eat at an Italian restaurant if they don’t typically like the sauce,” Palmer said.
My Italian friend, dining with me, gave it two thumbs up.
We shared an individual pizza — caramelized onion added sweetness to the goat cheese tang, smoky prosciutto, succulent fig, and peppery arugula on the popular pie ($10). We were delighted with the family-style salad that arrived in a big red bowl with tongs to help ourselves. The red-wine vinaigrette kissed crunchy, homemade croutons.
The “fruita d’mare” ($24) was an impressive platter of fresh briny scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels bathed in a bold fra diavolo sauce (we asked for spicy) over al dente spaghetti. The Chianti ($7) was a perfect accompaniment.
The bread pudding du jour (made by manager Linda Cunningham) was blueberry and coconut, dense and sweet, crowned by whipped cream and cooled by a side of vanilla ice cream ($8).