big bites, big flavor:
Taste of Italy appeals on all levels
t’s true: a taste of Italy has
been a part of my culinary makeup since my time in Wilmington began in 1995. I moved into Suite T on UNCW’s campus, and it seemed, in an instant, my suitemates and I were hooked on piled-high meatball wedges, chicken salad rolls and eggplant parmigiana. Laundry day was always Sunday, and we happened to go to a laundromat only a stone’s throw away from A Taste of Italy’s College Road location. As we aged, moved off campus and got our own washers and dryers, we never ceased our trips to the deli. I am proud to say, 16 years later, I still frequent the eatery—and the only difference from then and now, aside from a few more wrinkles and pounds on me, is their larger location and expanded offerings. A Taste of Italy makes the best meatballs in town—hands down. I feel confident saying that after trying practically every version along the southeastern NC corridor. A Taste of Italy’s secret? Their mama. Brothers Tommy and Chris Guarino culled every recipe from their family’s culinary bag of tricks to open one of Wilmington’s first tried-and-true New York delicatessens in 1994. Since, they’ve been making rich, savory marinara—worth its buy in bucketfuls for those not wanting to make it from scratch every time—fresh mozzarella, cured New York sausages and stacked deli sandwiches. Their hot items also suit the palate, from stuffed shells to parmigiana dishes to ziti and manicotti. Their cold salad case overspills with pasta salads, from standard macaroni, made with celery, mayonnaise and carrots, to a bowtie variety, dressed with garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and peppers. Antipastos, stuffed peppers, olive and potato salads also tempt diners. I can honestly say there is nothing I’ve had here that I don’t like—maybe that makes me biased. But the fact of the matter is: Over a decade of coming back means they’re doing something right. The only problem I ever have with ATOI, in fact, is not knowing what to choose. Such was the case a few weeks ago as the lunch bunch descended upon the restaurant, located in an old KFC building off College Road, near the Wrightsville Avenue intersection. Being positioned on one of the busiest roads in town makes for popular lines at the deli; however, the folks at Taste run their shop like a well-oiled machine. Customers—many of whom the employees know by name—traverse in and out in no time, some choosing to eat in house, others taking it on the road. Amongst our motley crew of six, we man-
30 encore | june 15-21, 2011 | www.encorepub.com
by Shea Carver
A Taste of Italy Road 1101 S. College 910-392-7529 f-italy.com www.a-taste-o
aged to all order something different. Two special hot sandwiches of the day accompanied their regular menu of genoa and hard salamis, turkey, ham and roast beef, liverwurst, prosciutto and mortadella, among other Boar’s Head cuts. An Italian beef and pork wedge exercised its way onto our ticket, along with a daily chicken cacciatore dish, a meatball sub, a chicken salad wedge, broccoli and shrimp Alfredo, Philly turkey steak and eggplant parmigiana, with a salad and homemade house Italian dressing. Yes, it was a lot of food—much of which we packed up and sent back to our office manager, Susie, who unfortunately never gets to join our outings. The sandwiches at Taste aren’t just filled with a tad bit of meat between two slices of ordinary bread—no, they’re monstrosities that can easily make for two meals in one. They come in wedges and rolls, and take note, light eaters: The roll is the smaller version yet still impossible to finish. The wedge is like a sub—maybe eight or so inches. When piling the homemade breads, which come from Apple Annie’s (kudos for keeping it local, ATOI), with what literally feels like a pound or more of meat, the outcome is indulgently gluttonous. Their meatballs have the consistency of perfectly ground chuck, not overpowered by too much garlic or too much breading or too much parsley. Literally, the flavor is subtly rich and perfected when topped by their marinara, which isn’t too acidic in flavor or too sweet. A dusting of parmesan is all the sandwich needs, as melting heavy provolone or Swiss deters from its simple goodness. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A Taste of Italy’s chicken salad is spot on. It has just the right amount of finely chopped onion and celery flavor gainst a creamy, thick concoction of fresh roasted chicken and mayo—yet, not too mayo-y, just to my liking. Truly, it’s perfect on any hot day—or any day in general, really. This Italian-family restaurant shines most with their hot dishes. Normally, I am not a big fan of eggplant parmigiana, but Taste somehow makes the dish most appealing.
DE-LI-CIOUS: A Taste of Italy’s shrimp Alfredo with broccoli and turkey Philly steak on a wedge is enough to feed a family of four, easily. Photo by Sue Cothran.
They thinly slice the eggplant, batter it and layer it multiple times, top it off with gooey cheese and ladle their tomato sauce over it. A side dish of pasta isn’t needed alongside it—it only makes it heavier. However, it is offered should customers want it. The chicken cacciatore makes for a lighter offering, served again in that magic red sauce, with chunks of chicken, onions and peppers, over spaghetti. The Alfredo has a lightness to it, despite the cream, and best of all, they don’t overcook the shrimp when topping the dish. Truly, every light pink shellfish popped to near perfection bite after bite. All pasta dishes come with multiple slices of sesame-encrusted bread, simple and white but when spread with butter, an easy enjoyment. The Philly sandwiches at Taste shouldn’t be taken for granted. First off, they’re ginormous; diners should come with a partner
and share if looking to order a wedge. Either offered in a steak variety, which has a slight tang of Worchestershire flavor to it, as well as in a turkey option for the less heavy version, it still weighs two pounds at least when stacked with onions, peppers and cheese. But Taste of Italy’s special Italian beef and pork sandwich definitely takes the cake at weigh-in. The meats seem like they’ve been roasting all day, before being tossed in a red sauce, and served with cheese, onions and peppers. Meals at Taste aren’t only relegated to lunch and dinner anymore either. In fact, the crew now serves breakfast starting at 8 a.m. daily—and is it ever for champions! Again, those giant rolls and wedges are filled with eggs, cheese and sausage, bacon or Taylor ham from New Jersey. Seemingly, one wedge can be split three or four ways. And their coffee does more than put hair on the chest, it makes the outlook of the day seem much more appealing. Whether stopping by to dine in or taking home dinner to the family, meals here come in large portions and with a big payoff: Everyone leaves happy. Especially with an Italian cookie or homemade brownie in hand.
Your alternative voice in Wilmington, NC