Old-world Italian food from an easy-to-miss spot
Some of the greatest comfort food can be found at Italian restaurants, especially those old-world spots that feature dishes made using recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. The Greater Boston area certainly has its fair share of such places, with many of them located in Boston’s North End, but other sections of Boston and its suburbs have some real gems, including an unassuming little restaurant in the northern suburb of Wakefield called Massimo’s. It’s a bit tough to find but is well worth seeking out if you’re a fan of both Northern and Southern Italian food.
Massimo’s is located in a somewhat odd place, hidden behind Wakefield Center facing the far end of a municipal parking lot and residing in a squat one-floor storefront that extends back into what appears to be a house. The front of the restaurant feels a little like a three-season porch, as it is in the one-floor part of the structure with lots of light coming in from the windows along the front wall. Farther back (and a few steps down) is a second section that is partitioned off a bit from the front and is a bit of a darker and tighter space, while another dining room is set off to the left in the back of the restaurant and faces a part of the kitchen. While feeling just a tad scattered and “thrown together,” the interior of Massimo’s has a real charm to it—in part because of this, since it feels anything but generic and isn’t unlike being in someone’s home for dinner (and again, the restaurant is located in a house-like structure, so this all makes sense).
Max, who is the restaurant’s owner, grew up in Italy and is of Sicilian ancestry, and many of the dishes offered at Massimo’s come from family recipes from the old country—and if it’s not too busy and the kitchen isn’t too backed up, Max can make very traditional, authentic versions of otherwise familiar menu items in ways that aren’t often found in local Italian restaurants (more on this in a bit). The regular menu has consistently great dishes, including some real highlights such as a comforting eggplant rollatini with creamy ricotta; a tortellini soup with chicken broth that is perfect for a chilly night; breaded potato croquettes with bacon mixed in; a sublime steak pizzaiola with a very rich sauce; a simple but delicious lasagna with freshly made pasta sheets; an aromatic tortelloni al tartufo in butter sauce; and some of the best versions of chicken, eggplant, and veal parmigiana that you’ll find in the suburbs. Another item offered is spaghetti with pesto, and this is one that can be adjusted into a truly old-world dish via the addition of potatoes, which help give more texture and introduce a whole new flavor to the dish—along with some extra starch that helps make the pesto stick a bit more to the pasta. Because Max is a skilled pastry chef, saving room for dessert at Massimo’s is a must, with extraordinary versions of tiramisu, lemon mascarpone cake, lobster tails, and chocolate cake available depending on the day. A handful of beer and wine options are offered, as well as soft drinks and coffee.
Some folks may recall a place called Massimo’s in both Malden and Everett, and yes, this is the same restaurant that had been in located in each of those communities before making one more move. And now it seems that the dining spot has indeed found a permanent home a bit further away from Boston—though still easy to get to from the city depending on traffic—as after a bit of a slow start, it has really gained some recognition and now has lines out the door from time to time. The lines are for good reason, as Massimo’s is an Italian eatery that could easily compete with some of the best that Boston itself has to offer.
MASSIMO’S RISTORANTE. 19 CENTRE ST., WAKEFIELD.
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.