Whether you are looking for classic red-sauce Italian, a sleek environment for cocktails or a brunch destination with mimosas and fried chicken and waffles, Manchester's Trattoria Toscana offers it all.
In June, Michael Beers and his aunt and uncle, Joseph and Laurie Citino, opened their restaurant in the Hartford Road space most recently occupied by Corey Wry's CW's Chops and Catch. Wry, who also owns Pastrami on Wry and Corey's Catsup & Mustard in town, sold the restaurant in late 2016.
Food has "always been at the forefront of our family," Beers says.
The family's culinary experience has roots on Hartford's Franklin Avenue, as Beers' grandfather owned a restaurant in the city's "Little Italy" section (that's now Francesco's Ristorante.) Beers worked there from age 14 through college, earning a marketing degree from Central Connecticut State University.
Further study at the French Culinary Institute led him to six months in Milan, cooking with top Italian chefs. Back in the United States, Beers worked for Bobby Flay, opening Bobby's Burger Palace and Bar Americain at Mohegan Sun, and then he joined the former Mill at 2T in Simsbury's Tariffville section, before leaving the kitchen to take a sales job with a food distributor.
Trattoria's executive chef Xavier Santiago, with experience at Barcelona Wine Bar in West Hartford and Rooftop 120 in Glastonbury, brings knowledge of Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine to the kitchen. In December, Santiago was named the grand champion of the local 86'd Culinary Collision series of friendly chef competitions, beating out Max Downtown's Chris Sheehan for the final crown.
THE ATMOSPHERE: Trattoria Toscana, with seating for more than 200, offers warm, elegant surroundings, suitable for everything from happy hour to a special-occasion dinner (and a 65-seat private room for events.) Though the setting is polished and refined, Beers says the restaurant's goal is to provide a casual, relaxed atmosphere - with a fine dining touch.
"We're not stuffy. We want people to come and feel comfortable, but still give them an excellent level of service and food at the same time," he says. "I think they're noticing that and appreciating it."
FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: Beers says the first version of Trattoria's menu leaned toward recognizable Italian fare like chicken Parmesan as a way to feel out the needs and desires of the area. Santiago's newer dishes encourage exploration: grilled Mediterranean octopus with blood orange vinaigrette and roasted red peppers; pork belly with fennel and salsa verde over mascarpone polenta; pasta carbonara with black pepper spaghetti and pork belly standing in for the requisite pancetta or bacon.
"For the table" selections with housemade focaccia are three for $9 or six for $17, with spreads and antipasto-style plates like whipped ricotta and goat cheese, eggplant caponata and marinated artichokes. Short rib arancini with roasted garlic aioli is a top seller from the starters category ($5 to $15), which also features classics like Nonna's meatballs and eggplant rollatini.
Bolognese, pork sugo, short rib ragu with ricotta gnocchi and Grandma Lena's Sunday sauce - with linguini, sausage, meatballs, braised beef and whipped ricotta - are among the comfort plates on the pasta menu ($17 to $25). Trattoria sources several fresh pastas from DiFiore Ravioli Shop in Rocky Hill, like a saffron linguini for its cioppino with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari.
Newer hearty entrees ($17 to $35) include a pork osso buco and mixed grill, "a big plate of meat," Beers says, with marinated skirt steak, roasted chicken, housemade sausage, salsa verde and fries.
"Pop's sausage" is made in house by Beers' grandfather, and appears in appetizer- and entree-sized plates of broccoli rabe and sausage, along with a sausage and peppers starter served with rustic bread.
Guests often end their meal with Trattoria's signature dessert of bomboloni, housemade doughnuts with vanilla pastry cream. A new Sunday brunch runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a Bloody Mary bar, sparkling wine cocktails by the glass or carafe and plates like frittatas, tiramisu pancakes, biscuits and gravy and braised short rib hash ($10 to $15.)
THE BAR: Trattoria Toscana's wine list naturally highlights plenty of Italian selections, with others from California, Oregon and beyond. Wine flights ($15) feature 3-ounce tastings of three red or three white Italian picks, and a list of bin-end bottles are 25 percent off from Sunday through Thursday.
Cocktails ($11 to $13) include a blood orange cosmopolitan, a burnt-orange Old Fashioned, a Ruby Rosemary with grapefruit juice, honey simple syrup and fresh lemon and an "Antipastini" with Tito's vodka, olive juice, extra-dry vermouth and assorted antipasti garnish.
Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., with snacks priced at $4 and $5, discounts on well drinks and draft beers, specialty cocktails for $5 and $6 and $5 select wines by the glass.
HOURS: Trattoria Toscana is open Monday through Wednesday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight; and Sunday for brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 4 to 9 p.m.
TRATTORIA TOSCANA is at 706 Hartford Road in Manchester. 860-783-5888 and trattoriatoscanact.com.