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I think I visited Bertucci’s for the first time back in 1983. I was still in school and living in a sublet that Summer and the Davis Square outpost was a regular haunt, given its delicious brick oven pizza and basement bocce courts. After college, my tastes turned more towards finer cuisine, but I always found myself returning to Bertucci’s. Something about the pizza and the simplicity of the other dishes made it easy and gratifying. There was a welcoming, homey feel and a genuine, authenticity to the food that reminded me of home.

Fast forward 30+ years and I am still a regular at Bertucci’s, more so now because of the welcoming family atmosphere and convenience of their many locations. One might initially think that Bertucci’s is just another Olive Garden – family-friendly Italian food without soul or passion – non-distinctive and guaranteed not to offend. Well, you would be wrong.

A recent evening spent with the Chef Rosario Del Nero, Vice President of Culinary – Executive Chef at Bertucci’s was both eye-opening, as well as a validation that Bertucci’s truly has soul and passion when it comes to Italian food.

The evening began several weeks before, when Ryan, the Manager at the Attleboro Bertucci’s told us that the customer feedback forms that we diligently enter after each meal are read by all the management in the company, including Chef Rosario. Ryan indicated that if we wanted to see some of our old favorites brought back, then we should tag Chef Rosario in our comments and let him know about our nostalgic hunger pangs.

Well, my better half did exactly that, explaining our long-time support of Bertucci’s and our desire to see our favorite pasta dish, Rigatoni ala Bertucci, brought back to the fold. Lo and behold, Chef Rosario responded and invited us to be his guest at a nearby Bertucci’s to prepare the dish with our support. So, we set a date and eagerly waited for the evening to arrive.

And the visit was magical. Not only did we get to have an evening with an incredibly passionate and genuine Renaissance man, but the welcoming support of the staff at the Attleboro Bertucci’s had us feeling like we had just stopped by our Nonna’s for a quick bite.

For those who don’t realize it, the food at Bertucci’s is entirely homemade. Nothing is pre-prepared, so the food is as fresh as possible every day. We were welcomed with a mouth-watering assortment of antipasti, as well as a dish of homemade meatballs in marinara sauce. The meatballs are a returning signature to the menu and represent a key element of Chef Rosario’s approach to food – freshness, authenticity and passion. And they did not disappoint – moist and flavorful with just the right blend of spice, prepared by Suzette, an Area Director who oversees as many as seven restaurants. That is true passion.

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As we noshed, Chef Rosario shared a bit of his history and that of Bertucci’s. Chef’s anecdotes about his home town in Lombardy and the remarkable Bitto Storico cheese produced there were captivating. We learned that Bitto Storico is a cow and goat milk cheese produced in the Valtellina valley of Lombardy by means of traditional methods promoted by Slow Food. The cheese is only produced in Summer, when the cows and goats can free-range in the high alpine meadows. The resulting cheese, according to Chef Rosario is one of the most amazing cheeses of Italy, having the ability to age for more than 25 years. You know what I am going to look for the next time I visit Wasik’s in Wellesley!

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After our antipasti, Chef Rosario donned his white apron to prepare the dish that brought us together in the first place – Rigatoni ala Bertucci. The dish was on the menu back in the 1990’s, but was ultimately removed, largely due to the risks in making the signature Vodka Cream Sauce. It had been one of our favorites and for good reason – it is truly amazing – simple, fresh with a perfect balance of ingredients. And, no, I am not going to divulge the recipe, as simple as it is… you can visit the Attleboro Bertucci’s and see if Ryan, Hillary and crew will duplicate it for you…

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We shared more stories over dessert and before we knew it, the evening was at an end. We made many new friends and feel an even deeper connection to Bertucci’s. While Bertucci’s is obviously a profit-making business, it is also a set of restaurants whose purpose is to promote the wonderful importance of Italian food and the warmth and vibrancy of Italian culture. Chef Rosario is the embodiment of this and through his example, ensures that every visit to Bertucci’s is amazing.

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To top it off, our son even got to make his own meatball pizza, his favorite, courtesy of the same Area Manager who made the meatballs earlier in the day.

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Our thanks to Chef Rosario and all the staff at the Attleboro Bertucci’s for making our visit truly memorable.

Buon Apetito!

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