Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It will be hard for any Italian restaurant in America to top what has to be my favorite restaurant in Italy.
There is this little out-of-the-way pizzeria near the Stazione Termini, in Rome, called Ricci, Est! Est!! Est!!! It is the best truly Italian restaurant ever, and it puts all of the American imitators — and yes, I am talking about the national chains as well — to shame.
Ricci has a great intimate atmosphere. It’s small and cozy, with brick walls and Italian sculptures on the inside. It’s like the kind of Italian restaurant you see in a Godfather movie, but never see in real life in America.
I stopped by there on my trip to Rome in 2010, and I have to say it also had the best pizza I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
I had a marguerite pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, cheese ground beef and a heavy does of wine in the sauce. I also had an unusual appetizer that was a giant ball of mozzarella cheese — about the size of two fists put together — wrapped in bacon and covered in olive oil.
I washed it down with a full bottle of white wine what was big enough for eight glasses. Yes, I did finish off the bottle all by myself. Fortunately, my hotel was only a couple of blocks away so I didn’t have to sway and stumble too far.
I bring up Ricci Est! Est!! Est!!! because the point I am trying to make is that I am biased against most Italian restaurants in America. Some people might say taking an Italian to Olive Garden is like taking a Mexican to Taco Bell, and assuming it’ll make them feel at home. I’m not saying I hate Olive Garden, by the way, because the food is decent, even if I would like a little more variety in the menu.
Let me make my case a little more clearly, using “Travel + Leisure” magazine’s recently released list of the top Italian restaurants in the U.S.
I must say I’m not impressed.
I’ll admit that I’ve never eaten at any of the 32 restaurants on the magazine’s list, so I’ll trust “Travel + Leisure” if it says the food is good. But, eating at an Italian restaurant is not just about the food for me. Let’s face it, the food at some of the most charming restaurants in Rome leaves much to be desired.
Italian food isn’t meant to be gourmet, however. It’s soul food for Italian people, and other people just happen to like it.
The restaurant has to have an aesthetic appeal to me, and by that, I mean I have to feel like I’m truly in the kind of restaurant I’d find on any street corner in Roma.
I don’t want to walk in and see the same tired chic look that I can see in countless restaurants in America, regardless of what style of food is served. I want character in the design. I want exposed brick, and antique-looking Italian sculptures. I want the red-and-white checkered table cloth.
I want to expect some guy with an accordion to come wandering through the room at any moment, while playing a tarantella.
That is what it means to be in a great Italian restaurant.
The restaurants included in the list are only located in a big city, and not a suburb, even though the burbs usually have better restaurants than the in-town joints.
Not surprisingly, no Italian restaurant in the Atlanta area made the list. Atlanta doesn’t seem to have much luck where “Travel + Leisure” is concerned. It always ranks somewhat low on the magazine’s annual “Best Cities” list, and it was named one of America’s dirtiest cities earlier this year.
So, the magazine saying Atlanta has no great Italian restaurants is not a shock to me. It’s a shame because there is one really great Italian restaurant, called Vincent’s Italian Restaurant, located at 3412 Ernest Barrett Pkwy, in Marietta. It’s right off of Dallas Highway. It’s actually pretty close to an authentic Italian restaurant — the closest I’ve ever seen on this side of the Atlantic actually.
The food is really great, and its look fits my idea of the true Italian restaurant too, by the way.
Since Atlanta is not included on the “Travel + Leisure” list of best Italian restaurants in America, I have to say the closest restaurant on the list is in Charleston, S.C.
Oh, gee willikers. Let me hop in my car so I can drive six hours to Charleston and taste fine dining, Italian style.
Girl, please. I’ve got better things to do with my time than eat at a restaurant I’m probably going to be biased against now and for forever.
Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at email@example.com.