Dolce Amici Brings a Taste of Italy to Downtown Norway

Part cocktail bar and part gelateria, the multipurpose restaurant serves up everything from meatballs to panini to tiramisu.

Rigatoni in Bolognese
By Will Grunewald
Photographed by Cait Bourgault
From our April 2022 issue

Between lunch and dinner hours on a Saturday, Dolce Amici, in Norway, was fairly quiet. A group of probably-70-somethings stopped in for gelato, hunkering down near the refrigerated display case, snow whirling past the front windows. A middle-aged woman sidled up to the bar for a cocktail and chatted with the staff while she waited for her takeout order. And two of us, in for an off-hours meal, occupied a cozy table in the back corner. “That was our intention, to have it be a place that runs the gamut,” says Lourdes Rubio, who, with Liz Cook, opened Dolce Amici in 2020. “It makes my heart sing when I see that play out.”

Weekday afternoons, kids from the high school drop by for scoops and coffee. Sunday brunch is popular with young families. And once a month or so, Rubio and Cook break out linen napkins and tablecloths for a prix-fixe dinner that pulls in more of a date-night crowd. The idea for a multipurpose restaurant started, Rubio says, during travels in Italy, where she and Cook loved that they could find both a nightcap and a gelato under one roof. And though their food, from meatballs to panini to tiramisu, is predominately Italian, the concept shares some esprit de corps with Parisian cafés — people-watch on Main Street for a few minutes while sipping an espresso, bring a book and linger over a midday drink, have a whole meal, or just have dessert.

Dolce Amici
427 Main St., Norway. 207-743-3900.
Price Range
Starters $­4­–$9, entrées $10–$20.
On Sundays, the menu includes eggs Benedict, waffles, crepes, panini, and classic brunch cocktails — mimosas, Bellinis, and bloody Marys.
Weather permitting, Dolce Amici’s patio is a lovely spot to watch the world go by on Main Street — and the overhanging display of colorful umbrellas is a charming touch.

Dolce Amici took over what had been a gun shop. Among many improvements, Rubio and Cook installed a kitchen and accented their airy new dining room with a wraparound, tufted, blue banquette and blown-glass light fixtures. They also went to Chicago for a gelato-making intensive and imported gelato equipment from Italy, put together a cocktail list heavy on classics (Sazeracs, mules, and, befitting the Italian vibe, negronis), and hired chef Paul Cassano to run the kitchen. The first dish to hit our table was Cassano’s bruschetta, a dish I’m generally disinclined toward, because how different can one tomato-topped piece of bread be from the next? In this case, quite different. It turned out to really be a caprese salad — fresh mozzarella, fragrant basil, and ripe tomatoes heaped in a bowl and drizzled with balsamic — with crostini on the side, plus an artful streak of roasted-garlic puree rimming the plate. The resulting mix-and-match, build-your-own bruschetta packed more flavor than any other bruschetta I’ve had, and it was more fun to eat.

Bolognese, on rigatoni, offered another, subtler instance of a classic dish smartly tweaked. Like any great Bolognese, this one simmers for most of the day (and usually rests overnight too). Cassano’s bit of chefy nuance is to blend the celery, onion, and carrot base. He cooks that vegetable mash down, and it eventually very nearly melts in with tomato, beef, and pork, imparting all the intended flavor while making for an especially velvety ragu. Bolognese would have been my favorite bite of the outing if not for something of a surprise hit: gnocchi stroganoff, a Russo-Italian mash-up. The creamy stroganoff, laced with slivers of mushrooms and tender chunks of beef, is about as comforting as comfort food can be, and Cassano’s handmade potato gnocchi are sturdy enough to stand out even in such a decadent sauce.

Speaking of decadence, there are 18 gelatos and sorbets to choose from in the display case. Rubio and Cook use cream from Smiling Hill Farm, in Westbrook, and only make small batches — most less than a gallon — so freshness is a given. The pistachio, rich and roasty, was a favorite. So too was the yogurt and honey, with its tangy undertone of Greek yogurt balanced against the honey. The only disappointment of the outing was that we got too full to keep eating. But Dolce Amici does takeout, so we stashed an order of creamy polenta with mixed veggies in the back seat of the car, and some cannoli too.