'Taste of Italy' stirs memories of iconic Federal Hill eatery

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Casa Christine, which was once a fixture on Providence’s Federal Hill, came back to life Tuesday in Johnston.

The one-time quintessential eatery, where you could smell the gravy simmering as soon as you waked into the front entrance at 145 Spruce St. and were greeted as if you were in the Calise family’s kitchen, was set up underneath blue canopy covered tables and chairs at Briarcliffe Manor’s well-manicured outdoor courtyard.

“Benvenuto!” – which means “welcome” in Italian – exclaimed Pam Raymond, the assistant activities director at the skilled nursing and rehabilitation center on Old Pocasset Road who single-handily produced a unique and fun and food-filled Taste of Italy for dozens of residents. “Buon appetito!”

For Raymond, in fact, Tuesday was a trip back in time when she once waited on governors, judges and lawyers during her days as a waitress at Casa Christine.

Tuesday was also day that Raymond set aside to showcase three generations of the Calise family and prepare the sumptuous Taste of Italy.

“Pam put so much effort into this Taste of Italy,” Katelyn Parenteau, a staffer at Briarcliffe, offered. “This is an outstanding event for everyone here at Briarcliffe.”

Raymond, who was once Pamela Calise, did so with the help of her “fantastic father” and famed chef William “Bill” Calise, her brother Bill Calise Jr. and nephew Max Calise of television’s “Phantom Gourmet,” who ranks among the best young chefs in New England.

Many of the residents at Briarcliffe Manor, in fact, recalled the days when they enjoyed special dishes at Casa Christine, which was during its 3½- decade run was famous for Bill Calise’s culinary creations.

Tuesday, though, Bill Calise – now 86 and still cooking great dishes – Bill Calise Jr. and Max Calise treated Briarcliffe Manor residents to a Taste of Italy extraordinaire that also featured music, dancing, a special toast, an Italian flag waving ceremony and a mouth-watering menu.

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