La Trattoria Restaurant and The Green Papaya
21 Old Albany Turnpike (Route 44)
By Spencer Caldwell
Photographs by Tony Bacewicz
When La Trattoria opened in Canton roughly 45 years ago there were about 6,500 town residents, and today that number is only a little over 10,000. For a restaurant to do business in such a small community, it needs to win the hearts of local residents or draw substantial business from nearby towns. La Trattoria appears to have done both. One of the best ways to win over those hearts and draw that business from afar is to offer good value, which La Trattoria does. It also has another ace up its sleeve, a substantial banquets and catering business.
Obviously, La Trattoria’s business model works. Even so, its third generation owner, 32-year-old Mark Bettera, is attempting to modernize. Evidence included new carpeting, a new fabric pattern on the banquettes, and a new antipasto bar. In a nod to Italy, framed street scenes decorated the cream-colored walls. Still, the feel is generic 1970s, with brown Formica tabletops, brown wainscoting and an acoustic tile ceiling. However, on the second night we visited, good live jazz music drifted in from the lounge, enhancing the ambiance. A terrific wine list ($18-$175) with 27 wines priced under $30 didn’t hurt either, even if we had to ask for big-bowled goblets. While there were 21 wines by the glass ($6.50-$9), the bargains to be had were among the bottles, including a lovely 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Oregon we enjoyed for just $26 and a charming 2008 Fetzer Merlot, California for just $24.
But both service and food at La Trattoria were a bit of a roller coaster ride, with noteworthy peaks and valleys. I rode that coaster twice, with pretty much the same results. The first night we had an eager-to-please waitress with just three weeks under her belt, the second night a personable veteran. Both meals unfolded at a glacial pace with prolonged abandonments and odd omissions.