Just yesterday but well over a lifetime ago, Ricetta’s Brick Oven Ristorante was an integral part of my life and routine. At that time, Ricetta’s was the forerunner in Portland’s off-peninsula pizza scene but hadn’t yet expanded to Falmouth and Saco (The latter of which closed in June.) They hadn’t yet offered affordable catering, mass-produced their sauce for retail, brought in gourmet gluten-free desserts, or accommodated stellar on-premise parties. And, they certainly didn’t have the competition of urban-chic breweries with their own brick ovens to contend with.
My girls were small. The youngest was in a high-chair when the OG Ricetta’s in South Portland became a staple and an oasis. Kids-Eat-Free night wasn’t just a break from the mundane. It was the only way I could afford to take them out where I’d enjoy the food, too. Sure, there were other kids-eat-free options, but chicken nuggets and greasy grilled cheese sandwiches just didn’t cut it.
Instead, we feasted on Caesar salad with “extra anchobies” and opted for veggie pizza to identify colors and count slices. They had creative coloring sheets and if my favorite server was unhappy to have a section that looked, sounded and behaved like Romper Room, she never showed it. We were welcomed and appreciated.
Their house policy was one free kids meal with an adult purchase, but when I explained to the manager that I was a single mom, they bent the rules for me. To keep us from feeling self-conscious in a restaurant full of mommies and daddies, I coined the “WR3CHIX” acronym that later became a license plate identifier and code for our little coven.
Perhaps the very best thing about those early adventures at Ricetta’s was the visible pizza production line where the pros would toss and spin the dough sky high. It was the no-tech pinnacle of live entertainment for my two little girls. They also had a small area where children could play with the dough, rolling it in flour and pretending to stretch it out to fit a pizza pan. The time passed quickly when the kitchen had a check-minder with so many backed up order slips they were overlapping.
As years snuck by, we saw Flatbread, Portland Pie, and OTTO’s move in. And inevitably, my girls grew up. Our Ricetta’s night was replaced by at-home, Wednesday night Dinner Club, with BFF and her brood. Dinner Club was later usurped by field hockey team dinners held at The Big House on Mt. Deepwood.
But, Ricetta’a became something else to me when I saw how generous and savvy founder Ron Stephan was. He hosted Chamber of Commerce functions, sponsored events at the Maine Audubon center and rarely said no when hit up for an auction item or donation. He rebranded over the years by refreshing the menu and expanding on social media.
No one can say they didn’t try.
Perhaps Ricetta’s in Falmouth will be most remembered for the All-You-Can-Eat Pizza Buffet, long a pre-pandemic staple. The good news is we all have up to three more chances to eat back the memories of that apple pie dessert pizza and crispy Caesar salad. Prior to October 9th when they’ll close their doors, Ricetta’s will be serving the buffet this upcoming Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 7-9) from 12-3.
Marilyn Urbano is one of North Deering’s best known bartenders. Many of us remember her Bruno’s Restaurant and Tavern days on Allen Avenue, but Urbano has worked the bar at Ricetta’s in Falmouth for the last thirteen years. Word is she’s going to the Sicilian Table across the street in the Falmouth Plaza. Be sure to tell her hello.
Other longtime staff members remain unsure what they’ll do when Portland Pie expands to hang their shingle where Ricetta’s has been. One told me she might stay on with the local chain restaurant, but then again she might not. The only thing she’s sure of right now is that Ricetta’s is closing and will be gone forever.
“Portland Pie bought all of our recipes,” she said sadly. “Except for the memories, it’s really over.”
Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].