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Osteria Mattone’s chic, ambience-heavy interior

To Rome With Love

by Wendell Brock | Photography by Greg DuPree | The Atlantan magazine | December 20, 2013

With Roswell’s Table & Main, restaurateur Ryan Pernice and Executive Chef Ted Lahey made their mark with a sophisticated style of Southern cooking that can hold its own with just about any other in the city. But as good as the fried chicken and hush puppies may be, it would make little sense for this duo to serve Southern seconds at their latest venture, Osteria Mattone, just a few steps down Canton Street.

Wisely for them (and happily for us), their newly opened concept makes a diversion to the simple rustic flavors of Rome. At this casual but highly polished restaurant, which couples a friendly osteria and bar with a slightly fancier trattoria-style dining room, one can enjoy classics like fritto misto (fried seafood); salty prosciutto with sweet seasonal fruit; handcrafted pastas; and roasted meats from a wood-burning oven. This magic happens in a beautifully appointed, light-filled old bungalow decorated in stucco tones and featuring tons of wood and brick. Mattone is, after all, the Italian word for brick, so, here, you’ll find the kitchen crisping and flattening chicken like the ancient Romans might have done.

Working with Sous Chef Alex Chen, Lahey has designed a menu where you can slurp vino and nibble salumi—or, perhaps, graze on little dishes of veal meatballs and tuna carpaccio from the Cichette (or “small plates” section).

But whatever you do, don’t leave this joint without a bite of pizza. I’m still dreaming of the speck e rucola—a satiating mix of smoked ham and arugula atop an angelically thin crust, edged with salty-buttery pecorino. In a city obsessed with Neapolitan-style pies, let the word get out: Roswell is now home to a major pizza paddler.

Along with said pizza, we started out with a spritzy and refreshing Aperol-based cocktail—and what may be the best octopus dish in town. Poached and grilled to a crisp-tender nirvana, the polpo is tossed with chickpeas, radicchio and mint-lime vinaigrette. It’s the stuff that makes people kiss their hands and weep. (Yes, it really is that good.) The same can’t be said, however, for the pretty stack of fried shrimp, calamari and white anchovy that made up the aforementioned fritto misto—it was nice, just a tad fishy-tasting for me.

There were no reservations, however, when it came to the porchetta (roast pork shoulder) and manzo (hickory roasted rib-eye). In fact, I was downright jealous that my friend beat me to the punch by ordering that wonderfully unctuous pork, which came on a bed of sauteed fennel with a dollop or two of perky gremolata. But, hey, I got a manly mountain of pink-at-the-middle steak, sporting a Parmesan crust (pure genius!) and a side of the best greens I had all fall: dandelions perked up with vinegary salsa. Taking a cue from our server, who suggested pastas as sides, we got half-portions of the tortelli di zucca (butternut squash dumplings)—so lovely with their brown-butter-and-amaretto sauce and garnish of fried sage leaves—and the fettuccine di mare (noodles bathed in a gentle gravy of tomato, garlic and tarragon and studded with luxurious chunks of lobster). Verdict on the pasta: Butternut squash plus pork equals perfection.

And how smart of Lahey to pluck Micki Kimberly from her sous-chef position at Table & Main and put her in charge of pastries. Her ricotta panna cotta with quince compote was more than memorable, and it didn’t hurt that it came with pinenut-and-rosemary brittle. In this final flourish, a South-meets-Italy confection that reminded us of the peanut and pecan candies of Georgia, we could see how comfortably the sensibility of Rome will sit in the neighborhood of Roswell. Tutto va bene, y’all!

Osteria Mattone
1095 Canton St., Roswell
678.878.3378
osteriamattone.com

Hours: Tue.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat.,
5-10:30pm; Sun, 5-9:30pm

The price point: Antipasti, salumi and small plates, $9-$14; pizza, $11-$13; pasta and mains, $15-$43

The drinks: By the glass: A slew of Italian reds and whites. Big red-lovers must try the Mastrojanni Rosso di Montalcino ’10 from Tuscany. There is also a hefty list of other bottles from Spain, France, Australia and California, and a nice little list of aperitif cocktails, too.

The vibe: The place is divided into a casual osteria and slightly fancier trattoria. Fashionwise, you might think casual for the osteria and dressier for the main room. But the tone is relaxed and inviting, never stuffy.