We in Clay County are blessed with a few really good eateries. I would love to name them, but it would undoubtedly lead to declarations by my readers regarding their voting choices. However, our newest restaurant is a genuine standout. I think I may have died and gone to Italy.
Other than pizza, I rarely eat at Italian restaurants. My grandmother, Cecilia Naparano, came here from Naples, Italy. You will not find cooking like hers in any chain restaurant boasting Italian cuisine. However, you can find her cooking in "The Original Italian Restaurant." The headwaiter, Arnaldo, and the Chief, his mother, came here from Fondi, Italy, a village a bit South of Rome and North of Naples.
Americans are always on the go. We want to eat fast and get on with the next thing. We take Italian food and invent the pizza, Chinese and invent the egg roll, Mexican and invent the taco and burrito, German chopped steak and sausage and invent the hamburger and hotdog. We even invented the ice cream cone so that ice cream can be eaten on the go.
An Italian meal is meant to be enjoyed slowly over several courses. As a person who always has something else to do, this type of meal takes a bit of adjustment. Be assured, it is worth it!
Recently, my wife and I started our meal with focaccia flatbread drizzled with olive oil sprinkled with fresh toasted rosemary and other subtle herbs. It had less oil on it than I would have used, but that kept it light. Next was an order of calamari fritti with a well-balanced crisp marinara sauce. They had sold quite a bit of the sea bass lately and were running low so they deviated from the menu and split a large filet of sea bass between my wife and I and added shrimp. All of it was dressed in butter and olive oil with fresh herbs and lightly spicy seasonings with lemon juice and crisp ornate vegetables. The main course was divine.
When I get to heaven (assuming an attorney can make it to heaven), I hope I am greeted by grandma with a fresh cannoli. Desert was served with two parts. There was fresh fruit; sliced strawberries, thin sliced skinned apples, and blueberries drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar. This was the palate cleanser. Following that was the cannoli. Cannoli is an Italian tubular pastry filled with a sweet ricotta containing fruit and chocolate. The cannoli shell was of the perfect thickness, crisp without being brittle, and delicately enhanced with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. The Ricotta was not too sweet and did not have too much chocolate as often happens in places that don't know better. The sweetness was excellently balanced with citrus fruit flavors.
The only things missing from the meal were the dinner wine and after desert espresso. Diners can be assured that the wine license has been applied for and they are looking for a quality espresso machine.
I have eaten at the Original Italian Restaurant three times in the past week. The pizzas are an excellent showing of the Italian variation on the American Italian pizza. Their pizzas have no noticeable grease and they use REAL mozzarella, which is too soft and buttery to be shredded. The pizzas are also light on sauce balancing it with the toppings and light creamy cheeses. I love Chicago style Pizza, but I just may love this style pizza just a tiny bit more. The veal is also excellent and typically served with a creamy cheesy risotto. The gnocchi is just as my grandmother made. The lemon sorbet is a perfect palate cleanser for their excellent tiramissou.
The Original Italian Restaurant is a new restaurant serving real Italian food in the Italian way. Most of the food is light and "al fresco." The pasta is served "al dente;" having a little bite rather than soft and mushy. The menu varies with what they can get that is fresh and top quality rather than always predictable but less than the best. The pace of the meal is relaxing.
The owners are looking for extra help to give "mama" a little break in the kitchen. (Pass the word to your favorite Italian mama or papa who may be interested in working in a place that is the real deal.)
Arnaldo is very excited about how he intends to continue developing the menu and improving the decor. This is definitely a place to try. Just make sure you have the time to enjoy it all. Real Italian food can't be rushed!