The northern suburb of Wakefield is a town with more than a few hidden gems when it comes to restaurants, in part because it is a quiet community that isn't a "satellite" town such as nearby Burlington, Woburn, or Peabody. (A satellite town, by the way, is loosely defined as a bustling business hub in the suburbs located at the intersection of major highways.) Another reason for the hidden gems is that some of the dining spots in Wakefield happen to be located in residential areas, on side streets, or in the case of a friendly Italian eatery called Massimo's, easily overlooked because it is tucked away in back of the town center. But for those who know about the place, it is a true treasure that is slowly but surely being discovered by folks in Wakefield, and it also has a following of those who remember it from its days of being in Everett and Malden.
The heart of Wakefield Center, which basically runs along Main Street from the commons abutting Lake Quannapowitt to the north to where Route 129 turns east to the south, has a main drag that consists of many independent shops and restaurants. A series of parking lots can be found behind the shops to the east of Main Street, and a couple of dining spots overlook these lots, including a Thai restaurant called Phuket and a block over, Massimo's (which took over the space where another Thai spot called Porchai's had once been). The space where Massimo's resides almost feels like someone's home, with the main dining area having an upper and a lower level with a partition in between, and another dining area being in the back by the partially open kitchen (this back room also has a TV set, while the main area does not).
Massimo's is all about freshly-made Northern and Southern Italian food, with house-made pastas being front and center, along with a variety of seafood items and a number of chicken, veal, and beef dishes. A few highlights here (depending on the season and the specials offered) include a comforting tortellini soup with the pasta getting a lot of flavor from the chicken broth; fried calamari with a side of red sauce; garlic bread cut into little squares, with each square having a bit of slightly melted cheese on top; house-made potato croquettes with a sharp peppercorn dressing; eggplant rollatini that has breaded cutlets rolled with creamy ricotta and swimming in a slightly sweet (and sublime) red sauce; bruschetta with everything but the kitchen sink placed on the grilled Italian bread (garlic, onions, olives, capers, tomatoes, basil, spiced olive oil, and grated cheese); an outstanding lasagna with fresh pasta sheets, lots of ricotta, and red sauce; a chicken Marco Polo plate with chicken, ham, Swiss cheese, and pasta in a creamy and garlicky sauce that has an extra kick from blue cheese dressing and gorgonzola; lobster ravioli in a light and creamy tomato sauce with shredded cheese mixed in; an enormous eggplant parmigiana plate that is big enough for two people; pillow-like house-made potato gnocchi with fresh mozzarella, parmesan, and sauce; a steak pizzaiola with an ultra-rich sauce that is so good it should be bottled; a creamy spaghetti carbonara with lots of bacon and just the right amount of sauteed onion, with pieces of egg adding to the richness of the dish; an old-fashioned risotto pescatore that is a seafood lover's dream; a savory veal saltimbocca with prosciutto, sage, mushrooms, and mozzarella, all in a wine butter sauce; seafood fra diavolo with a real kick (it can be adjusted if you want the heat turned down) that includes clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, and calamari; tortelloni al tartufo, which includes freshly-made pasta and comes with an abundance of earthy mushrooms; a zesty battered chicken francese cooked in lemons and tomatoes; grilled pork chops with spicy vinegar peppers; and cioppino di pesce with shrimp, scallops, mussels, and cod in a tomato broth. Drinks include some beer and wine options, while desserts include a bright and creamy lemon mascarpone cake, a decadent lobster tail powdered with sugar, a marvelous cherry chocolate cake, a chocolate peanut butter pie that may be the best dessert of the lot, a dense chocolate mousse cake, and a rich-tasting tiramisu. Prices for most items are inexpensive bordering on downright cheap, with some of the pasta dishes hovering at or just above $10.
Massimo's may be a familiar name to some, in part because it has now been in a few locations north of Boston, but it is still very much an under-the-radar spot, and with its home now being in a mostly hidden space behind Wakefield Center, its "hidden gem" status may indeed continue. But this little Italian restaurant has a truly loyal following, thanks to the "real" people who work at the place along with the excellent food at reasonable prices and the fact that it is not usually difficult to get a table here. Wakefield may not be Burlington when it comes to big-name restaurants (and big-name restaurant chains), but it has some real winners, with Massimo's being around the top of the list.
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