Stepping inside Centro Café from the often-bustling Center Street, you instantly feel like you’ve stumbled upon a hidden gem. While the interior is quaint and inviting, don’t expect checkered tablecloths and loud Italian classics being pumped through the sound system. As soon as you enter, you are greeted by the chef in the open concept kitchen at the front of the restaurant — along with the delicious scents emanating from the stove top. The marble bar and dark wood accents give a rich feel, but the sounds of friendly conversation show that Centro focuses on quality without being pretentious.
As for the menu, Café Centro (808 E Center Street) sticks with rustic Italian classics, using as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible. This philosophy shines through in their current summer menu.
The Vegetable Spaghetti appetizer ($10) is made from thinly sliced strings of farmers market fresh zucchini, squash, and red pepper, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette and topped with cherry tomatoes. The dish is a nice, light start to any meal. The crisp vegetables are enhanced by the tart vinaigrette, and a generous sprinkling of flat leaf parsley further brightens the flavor.
As for the main course, with Centro’s delicious line up of homemade pastas, it’s difficult to pick just one dish. Upon a recommendation by our server, we opted for the Penne con Salciccia as well as the Linguini and Scallops.
The Penne con Salciccia ($11) is rich and hearty, made with penne pasta and topped with Italian sausage, portabella mushrooms and tomato sauce. To top it all off, the dish is finished with a heavy sprinkling of fontina cheese. The pasta was cooked perfectly. The sauce was thick and rich, full of hearty meaty flavor along with rosemary, fennel seed, and thyme flavors in the sausage. The fontina gave a little bite to the dish but also made the sauce extra creamy and decadent.
The Linguini and Scallops ($13) was my favorite dish of the night. Once again, the long, thin strands of linguini were cooked to perfection. The sauce was a great blend of sweet, creamy, and spicy from the fresh tomatoes, splash of heavy cream, and generous sprinkling of red pepper flakes. The scallops were a modest size but full of fresh, succulent seafood flavor. This dish is definitely a winner.
Overall, the entrees were generous in portion size, but modest in price. We were able to watch as they were prepared, then transferred from the sauté pan, plated and then quickly placed on our table. These dishes didn’t spend a second under a heat lamp.
After our meal, we were notified by our server that the dining room would be closing. So we closed out the tab and headed to the bar for dessert. Unable to decide on just one to share, we opted for the pair of Cannoli and Tiramisu (both $5).
The cannoli were not the traditional cylindrical pastry dipped in pistachios and studded with maraschino cherries. Instead, Centro’s are dipped in semisweet chocolate and then topped in a rich chocolate frosting. The inside mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese and cream was whipped to a heavenly texture.
The tiramisu square was served garnished by two sweet raspberries. The layers of this traditional Italian dessert were a seamless blending of flavors. The sweetened mascarpone cream, bitter espresso, spongy ladyfingers, and cocoa powder garnish left little to be desired. It was the perfect ending to a flavorful meal.
Centro Café offers a variety of meat and seafood dishes, but also incorporates many vegan and gluten-free dishes. Come early to get a seat in their small dining room — reservations are not accepted. Currently, they only accept cash but there is an ATM machine available if you forget.
808 E. Center St.
Hours: 5 – 9 p.m. (Mon-Thurs); 5 – 10 p.m. (Fri. & Sat.); 4 – 8 p.m. (Sunday)