Joanne’s Journey to the Old Canteen


As many of you know, I was brought up in a big Italian family, rich in Italian heritage and traditions. We as a family, didn’t eat out much when we were little. Things were different then. Families ate at home every night and going out to eat dinner was a luxury.

So when our family did go out to eat, we ate at Italian restaurants or Chinese. That was it. I remember the first fast food place was Burger Chef in Cranston on Park Avenue. Hamburgers were a dime and French fries were a nickel. My dad would go there to get take out and come home with a dozen hamburgers and a dozen French fries. It was such a treat.

As I grew up and started to drive, it was then that I really started to frequent restaurants and eating out.  We as a family would go to the Old Canteen restaurant for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

My mom loved it there and we grew up visiting the Old Canteen in many social occasions.

Remembrance of Things Passed

When I was first elected as State Representative, I went to the Old Canteen the day I was sworn in.  Joe Marzilli, the owner, brought out a cake with candles and sang congratulations! It was awesome. To this day, my memories of going to the Old Canteen were fond memories of family gatherings with love and celebration.

It was a brisk Sunday afternoon when we decided to go to the Old Canteen for dinner.  Parking is easy because they have a valet and parking lot right there. I knew it would be crowded but it always is on the weekend. So I suggest you make reservations if you know you are going.

The thing I like about the Old Canteen is that the menu is huge and if you don’t see what you want, Sal, the owner, will make it for you. Sal has taken over the business from his dad Joe who has passed, but the food is the same and the place never loses it charm. I always feel like I am in an Italian movie. The decor is pretty pink with crisp white linen table cloths and napkins. 

I always have a glass of Prosecco when I go there but they have a great assortment of wines and a full bar. The great thing about this restaurant is that you can get a full course meal with antipasto or soup, main entree with pasta or vegetable, and dessert and coffee. I always choose the antipasto to start which has a light vinegar and oil dressing.

I ordered the veal scallopine special which consists of tender thin veal tenderloins with sautéed chicken livers in a lemon and butter sauce. It is always delicious. For my side dish I had capellini aglio with garlic, oil and olives.  The capellini was piping hot with bits of garlic in the sauce.

We also ordered the pork chops with vinegar peppers, which is a special for the hearty eater and a favorite of my husband. Don’t forget to request the garlic bread, it is the best I have ever had! There are so many choices in the menu, you will be confused, so ask your waiter or waitress for help.

Pork Chops from the Old Canteen are a tremendous selection.

For dessert we had ice cream roll with claret sauce and wandees. If you don’t know what Italian wandees are than you better ask for them when you eat there.  They are a fried crispy pastry covered in powdered sugar. My mom used to make them with her friend Julia.  These were very good.

I usually cannot finish my meal when I eat at the Old Canteen because they serve so many courses that you get really full.  So try everything and take home your left overs.  I recommend getting the full course meal.

Wandees are delicious.

When in Rome, do as the Italians do….eat.  

Don’t forget to Journey on down to the sold Canteen on Atwells Avenue in Federal Hill and bring your appetite! Buon Apetito!

Joanne Giannini
Joanne Giannini is a former State Representative from Providence. A freelance journalist, consultant and writer, she has previously written commentary for The Providence journal, GolocalProv and WPRO radio. Contact her at