The name, menu and location are all new at V's Trattoria in Hartford, but the team behind the freshly opened restaurant has plenty of familiarity and experience with the city.
The "V" in the name is for Vito's, a mainstay Italian restaurant brand in central Connecticut with past and present eateries in Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor, New Britain and Middletown. The latest Vito's project is a rebranding of sorts, as the restaurant group met challenges in the capital city.
In late November, owner Rob Maffucci closed Vito's By The Park — the group's flagship location — after 20 years, citing a significant drop in business due to construction in front of the space at 26 Trumbull St. At the time, he told The Courant that he had mixed feelings about the decision, saying the restaurant overlooking Bushnell Park was "magic when we first started out."
But Maffucci had plans ready to go. He moved the restaurant's operations to the Prudential building at 280 Trumbull St., opening in two phases. A Vito's To Go cafe launched immediately in the building's lobby with a streamlined menu of breakfast items, salads, pizzas and sandwiches, and catering continued from the new location.
"We didn't skip a beat," he says. "It was very important to keep that part of the business alive."
Phase two would come nearly six months later. V's Trattoria opened in the building on May 15, showcasing a modern, industrial space with high ceilings and seating for about 100. Maffucci wanted the design to match an Italian trattoria format, where food is simple and seasonal.
"This was definitely a labor of love," he says. "We really wanted to create a smaller restaurant, a scratch restaurant. I wanted clean lines, simple colors, to fit the cuisine and the style of cooking and service that we're doing."
Maffucci said the move was "bittersweet," but that V's prime location across from Hartford Stage and the XL Center has been ideal. The restaurant has also already seen business from nearby Dunkin' Donuts Park, he says. "We are definitely still benefiting from all the events."
V's offers a focused menu of small plates, salads, pizzas, pastas and entrees.
The tapas-style "piccoli piatti" have been instant hits: roasted artichokes with crushed hazelnuts, Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette; yellowfin tuna crudo on crostini; fennel-seared scallops with parsnip puree and toasted Italian couscous; crispy pork belly with goat cheese polenta and Italian-bourbon infused demi-glace. Vito's famous meatballs and fire-roasted Italian sausage and peppers join the mix, too. Piatti are $6 to 9; at dinner, guests can choose any four for the table for $25.
Other shareables include antipasti, with a burrata board featuring Parma prosciutto, fig jam and melon ($9); a collection of salumi ($10) and a "per la tavola" sampler of Italian meats, cheeses, vegetables and other accoutrements ($15 for two people; $30 for four.)
Mussels pestonara, grilled octopus over charred broccoli rabe and fried calamari are among the "house specialties" ($5 to $10), along with a Tuscan ribollita soup that Maffucci says will change regularly with the availability of seasonal vegetables. The Pesca is an early favorite among the salads ($7 and $8) with grilled peaches, spinach, arugula, cranberries, toasted almonds, honey vinaigrette and goat cheese espuma.
All pastas are made fresh in-house daily: penne with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, Gorgonzola and marinara; linguine alla carbonara, lobster ravioli with mascarpone cream and hazelnut crumbles and Maffucci's signature pappardelle Bolognese with chocolate truffle pasta, which he prepared on an episode of Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay" in 2014.
"We always did our flat pastas fresh, but now we're unlimited to what we can do," he says, adding that a squid ink spaghetti would be among future offerings.
"Secondi" plates ($18 to $36) offer heartier portions like classic eggplant and chicken parmigiana; pork chops, braised lamb shank, grilled filet mignon and porchetta for meat lovers, and several fish options: tuna, Atlantic salmon and bronzino. V's also offers "signature cooking stone" meals ($20 to $32) where guests are invited to sear meats and seafood on a stone heated to 700 degrees in the restaurant's brick oven.
The gas-fired oven also turns out Vito's renowned pizzas ($13 to $20,) some with more gourmet toppings like guanciale, black truffle and soft-cooked egg and crispy porchetta with fig, fresh mozzarella and arugula. Standards like chicken pesto, fresh ricotta and primavera have also made their way to V's.
Maffucci said V's scratch sensibilities extend to the bar, where manager Christopher Rodrigue focuses on unique liquors, house infusions and fresh garnishes. Housemade limoncello appears in a vodka cocktail with blueberry reduction, and will also surface in a shandy with Stony Creek La Garza Mexicali lager.
V's also offers a boozy "soda Italiano" lineup, with strawberry-infused Campari, Frangelico and Traverse City cherry whiskey, and the bar also features a barrel-aged Dark and Stormy, a meld of Pyrat and Spytail black ginger rums, Peychaud's bitters and spices that sits in an oak barrel for about three weeks. The mixture is served in a traditional format with ginger beer, as a rum punch highball, or on the rocks with Bulleit rye. Cocktails are $8 to $12.
Daily specialties reflect a few throwbacks to the old Vito's days: "1-cent vino" five-ounce pours with the purchase of an entree in the bar or lounge on Mondays; $8 pizzas on Tuesdays and "buck a shuck" $1 select oysters on Thursdays.
Vito's Restaurant Group currently owns and operates Vito's by the Water in Windsor, Vito's Pizzaria in Wethersfield and a catering company that hosts weddings and events on the Maffucci family's South Windsor farm — which will provide fresh produce for V's changing menu.
"Trattoria means simple, Italian light fare," he says. "It's nothing complicated, no heavy-duty stuff, it's very seasonal; this ties very well into what we grow at our farm. We wanted to showcase that. It's just very honest cooking."
V's Trattoria is at 280 Trumbull St., Hartford (with an entrance on Church Street across from Hartford Stage). It's open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. 860-904-5453, vitosct.com/vs-trattoria.