Cucina LaMantia: Welcome to Our Family
By Christina Ruotolo
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
If you haven’t guessed by my last name, I’m Italian. My ancestors immigrated from Naples, Italy, and brought with them an array of recipes that have been passed down, cooked and loved for generations. I am proud to cook and serve my family meals made with love. For all of your who have done the same, you know how important family and food are. They bring us together.
It’s wonderful to get to travel to distant lands without ever leaving the city. This brings me to one such Italian wonder, Cucina LaMantia Sicilian Ristorante located at 3700 S. Memorial Drive behind the Pizza Inn in Greenville. They have been open for about five months and owners and New Jersey natives, Charlie and Lauren LaMantia are your Italian food guides. Charlie’s been in the food industry for over twenty-five years with family roots from Sicily, Italy. He came to NC with Lauren in 2018 from a friend’s recommendation and their dreams of opening a restaurant started to become a reality.
His restaurant is set-up a bit different from other restaurants in Greenville because he only offers one seating a night and serves 14 courses. Yes, fourteen! I asked Charlie why fourteen, is this a magic or lucky number we need to know or is there a personal significance to the amount? “My favorite number is 13, then I added a dessert to make it 14!” he says.
The rules at Cucina LaMantia are simple. Reservations only with one seating per night at 6pm. You can bring your own wine and/or beer, or even soda with no additional corkage fee or enjoy sweet or un-sweet iced tea or water. The cost is $45 cash which includes tax, plus gratuities. It usually takes about three hours from start to finish. Get comfortable, gather friends and family to enjoy a meal where the food takes center stage while your cellphone and television are not in sight.
Once you are seated, the experience begins. The walls are lined with hundreds of photos of customers and family along with a separate section with those who have completed the 14 Course Club which we will get to later. The lights are dimmed and tiny, white lights twinkle overhead. Lauren comes out and introduces herself and dinner begins. Open up your bottle of wine or pour a glass of tea and start enjoying course number one, the Cold Antipasto. This appetizer is served on a carving board and includes a bowl of marinated olives, sliced cured meats and sliced hard cheese. The salty cheese paired with briny marinated olives with the meats is exactly how every Italian meal should begin.
Cucina LaMantia is the only restaurant in Greenville offering you fourteen courses in one sitting. It’s an extravaganza of flavors to savor, and the best part is you don’t get to know the menu ahead of time. Each meal is served family-style to each table then the name written on a large chalkboard menu. You learn the history behind some of the family recipes passed down from the LaMantia family tree.
Lauren tells everyone the point of the evening is simple, “We want you to sit, relax, and enjoy good things and good food.” The menu changes periodically with a few staple items that stay on the menu all the time, so guests can come back often and try new flavors. For those that have special diet restrictions, with two days’ notice, Chef Charlie can accommodate your needs.
Lauren has an uncanny ability to remember the names of all of her guests and includes them when presenting a new dish educating on the origin and ingredients. Her bubbly personality adds Italian warmth. So now let’s do some eating.
In order to not give all the menu items away, I’ll only share just a few appetizers and a few of the latter entrees. After the cold antipasto, you are served a series of building blocks to a complete Italian meal including ginormous decadent meatballs bathed in homemade marinara sauce, bruschetta, pasta dishes, a few items only served here, homemade sauces brimming with family flavor, and much more.
Course #8 on my tour was the Paisan Pork with mustard au jus. Pork has been grilled to a tender bite and is served with a vibrant and bright mustard dipping sauce. Super yummy with tons of flavor and appeal. The next dish I sampled was a new addition to the menu, Orecheti con patate. Orecheti means “little ears” in Italian and the pasta is small and round and looks like a little bowl or a little ear. The al dente pasta is nestled in a rich sauce made from chopped potatoes. The chopped cooked potatoes are turned into a creamy, buttery sauce that is savory, yet mellow at the same time. This dish was originated by Charlie’s grandmother back in Sicily. It was super flavorful and hearty but not heavy.
The last course I sampled that I will tell you about is normally reserved only for Easter dinner, but Charlie and Lauren love the dish so much, they wanted you to be able to eat it all the time. “Good food should not be served just a few times a year, you should have it anytime you want,” Lauren says. This dish is called the Spidini. Start with a hearty helping of seasoned veal that has been pounded super thin, rolled in a breadcrumb mixture, then cooked on a skewer with onions and bay leaves, and grilled to perfection. You end up with a savory bite of tender, luscious veal.
Each course builds upon the next all the way to the satisfying dessert conclusion. Don’t be scared of 14 courses and go in with an open mind. It’s such a fun way to unwind and because all tables are served at the same time, you all get to experience the food together much like attending a large dinner party or banquet even though you have your own table.
Before you leave, you can get your photo made with their sign that says “Cucina LaMantia Welcome to Our Family” because once you come, you become family. Cucina LaMantia is open Wednesday-Saturday. They have plenty of space to accommodate family-style parties, and can be available seven days a week, for your private parties, luncheons, networking events and more, and for your next off-site event and bring the Italian love directly to you. Don’t forget date night with that special someone or just a couple friends getting together. They are also open for special events like Mother’s & Father’s Day so follow them on Facebook or check out their website to find our more.
If you haven’t tried Cucina LaMantia or you are a bit scared to eat fourteen courses, just put on your stretchy pants, get the family together, grab a few bottles of your favorite wine (or other drink of choice) and enjoy. Leave your worries outside the door and for a few hours, just relax, eat some great food and enjoy the company. For more information, check out their website www.cucinalamantia.com , find them on Facebook and Instagram, or call/text 252-242-2525.