Waitresses in black shirts and white aprons glided from the kitchen window to the bar to the tables where customers awaited their orders. In the kitchen, a chef in his pristine whites cooked at a near constant pace. Occasionally flames rose, as he fired the dishes that have earned Massimo’s Cucina Italiana a place in the hearts of food loving Mainers for nearly a decade.
Just another night at a popular Bangor restaurant, right? Not exactly.
When Massimo’s Cucina Italiana opened at 96 Hammond St. in late 2007, it quickly attracted fans. “It’s not uncommon to see old friends reconnecting over a glass of chianti, nibbling a thin-crust pizza or splitting an order of homemade fettuccini,” said one Bangor Daily News article about the new restaurant.
Massimo Ranni, the restaurant’s namesake, and his wife Anne Marie, moved to Bangor from New Jersey to open the restaurant. Since then, they’ve expanded, opening Massimo’s Breads which last year moved to a new Brewer facility at 56 Stevens Road. And soon, they’ll open the new Massimo’s Pizza Bar.
But for Massimo’s Cucina Italiana, the din of happy diners digging into bowls of pasta and other authentic Roman dishes has come to an end. The owners decided to close the restaurant, and focus their efforts on the new venture just up the way.
On that last night, Feb. 27, the cascading lights still twinkled in the restaurant windows facing the street, and the restaurant was packed with people. It was the last night of this restaurant — a swan song to the epic pasta dishes, rich entrees and well-dressed salads that have fed customers for so long.
Arriving without reservations, we nabbed seats at the bar after a brief wait. It was my last chance to spin flavorful pasta onto my fork in this cozy restaurant that’s been on my should-try list since moving here in 2014.
At the counter, we had a bird’s eye view of the kitchen and parts of the dining room. We ordered. Bolognaise. Carbonara. A couple of salads. Wine. Baskets of crusty Massimo’s bread and bowls of oil for dipping.
In the dark expanse of the restaurant, we could hear the animated conversations and laughter all around us. And as diners finished, paid and went to leave, there were hearty goodbyes. Longtime customers embraced the owners as they left.
“I’ll see you next door,” I overheard Massimo Ranni say.
Soon, the dark interior of Massimo’s Cucina Italiana will transition to become Brahma Grille, a steakhouse to be operated by Brett Settle, who owns Giacomo’s at 1 Central St. The new owner has been mum about details of the new venture.
Meanwhile, Massimo’s moves up the road a little to the former site of Massimo’s Breads, the space they used until moving to Brewer last year. The pizza bar will serve pizzas, naturally. But according to the Massimo’s website, that’s not all … some of those favorites from the just-closed restaurants will move with it. “In addition to thin crust pizza, you will be able to enjoy many of your favorite dishes and a great selection of wine & beer,” says a posting there.
So maybe that wasn’t my last shot after all. But I was still happy to experience the restaurant on its last night.
When preparing for this week’s column, I knew I wanted to share my observations from the last night at Massimo’s Cucina Italiana. And with it, an Italian recipe I’ve loved and made with love for years and years.
Like the menu at Massimo’s, this is simple food (in fact, they offered their own version on the Cucina Italiana menu). Aglio e Olio is a traditional Italian dish from Naples, and one that I first had years ago in a dark pizza joint in downtown Poughkeepsie, New York, where I grew up.
Garlic is cooked in olive oil until just fragrant and then tossed with pasta, herbs, salt and pepper. Finish it with a little cheese. And then enjoy. It really is so simple, but also so good.
This is the dish I make when I need comfort food. Or want a simple, simple dinner. Or am pressed for time. And it never disappoints.
And neither did my first, and last, meal at Massimo’s Cucina Italiana.
As we were leaving, Massimo, then seated with his wife Anne Marie eating the ubiquitous bread with oil, shook our hands and thanked us for coming in. As evening wound down in this Queen City restaurant, graciousness was the perfect ending to a great meal.
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ lb angel hair pasta, cooked
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped basil or parsley
- salt and pepper, to taste
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir in the minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant and just beginning to hint at golden brown -- 1-2 minutes at most.
- Pour the oil over the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper and toss again. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Serve topped with cheese, if desired.