Rarely does a restaurant achieve notoriety in its fledgling stage, but such is the case with Vico Ristorante Italiano, which officially opened its doors in June 2014 in Norwood, Massachusetts. Conveniently located just off Norwood’s central common, Vico has become one of the town’s most popular locations for those seeking fine Italian cuisine in an inviting setting. From the common, the restaurant is hidden from plain sight, but its simple sign beckons customers down a “vico” to its entrance. Once inside, first time diners as well as regular patrons can sense a personal welcome that is almost familial. This is exactly what head chef and owner Vincenzo Loffredo and wife Maria had envisioned for their space.
Vincenzo Loffredo was born to Leonardo and Antonietta Loffredo in Osara di Puglia in the province of Foggia — a small town rich with antiquity, which sits on the ridge of a Pre-Appenine mountainside. With narrow, crooked, streets and medieval edifices, skirted with hillside farms, Osara di Puglia offered Loffredo and his family a rather rustic lifestyle. Far from the glitz and glamour of big cities, he worked on his family’s large farm cultivating seasonal crops. It was on this very plot that he learned to respect the value of fresh foods and he quickly grew accustomed to dishes filled with hearty vegetables from the earth, handmade pastas, and healthy meats.
Handmade pastas were commonplace in his home during his childhood. He recalls fond memories of his mother and his sister — his greatest inspirations in the kitchen — preparing cavatelli, kneading the dough, and rolling each piece perfectly. Even raw cavatelli tasted good to Lofreddo, and he remembers sneaking away many, even to his mother’s dismay. While recounting the story, he grinned much in the same way I imagined he did as a child while secretly nibbling on bits of deliciousness.
In 1990, Loffredo came to America for what he thought would simply be a visit. Through mutual friends, however, he met his future wife, and decided that American life was more attractive. He worked for years in Boston-based locales, refining his culinary skills, and he merits chef Franco Caritano for being one of his greatest influences and mentors. “I learned food from the ground up,” Vincenzo stated over the multitude of dishes he brought from the kitchen for sampling, “and I make sure that I serve my guests the same quality foods that I grew up with.”
Loffredo’s menu boasts a relatively small but strong variety of Italian classics. Loffredo does not believe in fusion, as the simplistic composition of quality ingredients is what makes Italian cuisine so unique. Gli Gnocchi Caprese are among the choices for primi on Vico’s menu. Dished out in appropriately generous portions, the potato dumplings are refreshingly light and arrive with the perfect amount of San Marzano tomato sauce, so as not to smother the flavors of the pasta. The Risotto Pescatore is another choice topping my list of favorites. The creamy risotto is married with an abundance of fresh seafood, ranging from expertly pan-seared shrimp, littleneck clams, calamari, and mussels, and is finished with a light parsley pesto and juicy diced tomatoes. And with a final course of house-made tiramisù, with a balanced combination of marscarpone, a secret blend of five liquors, and a layer of hand-shaved Belgian chocolate on top, even self-proclaimed food critics would be wowed.
The operation at Vico’s is a reflection of Loffredo’s personal humility. His appreciation for his family members as well as his workers creates a unique environment that is visible for all to see. As Lofreddo states himself, “What am I without my workers?” The success of Vico Ristorante is not only testament to Loffredo’s expertise in the kitchen, but to the entire dining experience that he creates.