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Nino’s Cucina Italiana: “The food you enjoy with the people you love”

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Cacio e Pepe is one of the most popular dishes at Nino's Cucina Italiana.

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By Christina Routolo
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Summer is almost here and that means many local restaurants and eateries will be featuring new products that pay homage to the hot summer months. They will not only cool us off with fun summer drinks and help us unwind, but help you enjoy a relaxing meal with fresh veggies, seafood and other summer treats. If you’re looking for a place that can provide all of these, then head over to Nino's Cuciana Italiana at 511 Red Banks Road in Greenville.

Partners Salvatore Passalacqua, Massimo Mannino and Pietro Passalacqua are your Italian food guides, providing customers with exceptional service and award-winning culinary wonders for years. From a start at a little delicatessen in New York and now to Greenville for the last 20 years, they have provided fresh, quality food made with personality and love. The love they have for both their family and cooking comes through in every dish that you eat. From traditional Italian pastas to ciabattas, handmade breads, desserts, wines and artfully crafted cocktails, you can taste the passion in every bite and sip. Nino’s wants you to come, relax and eat great food surrounded by friends and family, and this is evident in their slogan: “The food you enjoy with the people you love.”

All of the pasta, sauces, bread, dressings and mozzarella at Ninos are scratch-made and they provide gluten-free pasta for those with food allergies. They also offer a special menu alongside their regular menu that features appetizers, pastas and cocktails tailored to the season incorporating local produce, seafood, meats and handmade fresh fruit syrups used at the bar. For my food tasting, I focused on food and beverages that feature a range of flavors to take you from spring into summer utilizing a bounty of flavor in every dish and drink.

All good meals should start with a cocktail. What better way to bring in the summer months than enjoying that cocktail outside on the patio area sitting among flowering plants and lemon trees. Grab a seat under the summer sun at lunch or under twinkle-lit pergolas at night sharing a bottle of your favorite wine or cocktail with friends. The outdoor dining area is open year-round and there is enough seating for larger parties and groups. In honor of several of summer’s signature produce items, I tried the watermelon cucumber mint spritz. The drink is made with Ketel One cucumber and mint botanical, fresh watermelon juice, Prosecco and soda water. This drink was clean and refreshing with its soft swirls of sweet watermelon and crisp cucumber notes throughout. The entire drink was light and airy with enough alcohol to tickle your tongue but not enough to require an Uber. It was a perfect choice to bring in summer.

Summer also is a time when the sea offers up its bounty and provides local restaurants with a colorful array of fresh and saltwater seafood. Nino’s uses mussels from Shell’em Seafood out of Wrightsville Beach for its gnocchi with mussels entree. They gently steam the muscles in a white wine sauce made with sliced tomatoes and herbs including fresh parsley and ladle the steamed mussels and sauce over handmade gnocchi. This Italian pasta is made with a few simple ingredients; potatoes, flour and ricotta cheese. The dough is mixed and cut into little squares, then boiled to produce a semi-soft potato-style dumpling that melts in your mouth. The pillowy butter pasta and crisp wine sauce paired with the briny mussels and little tomatoes bursting with flavor deliver a taste of the beach in every bite. The knowledgeable staff also will help you select the perfect glass of wine or crafted cocktail so your dining experience is effortless and enjoyable every time.

Now let’s eat some cheese. All great Italian meals should have cheese. Nino’s offers a unique cheese experience that I am super excited to finally try for the first time. This signature dish is called Cacio e Pepe. In Rome this is a classic dish similar to fettuccine Alfredo. It’s a Roman tradition that Nino’s brought back from their mother country. They start with a 50-pound wheel of Pecorino Romano cheese. They cut it in half and hallow out a circle in the center on one of the halves. They put this big cheese wheel on a cart and roll it out to prepare this dish table-side. Each guest has a bowl of hot cooked handmade spaghetti that is ladled into the wheel of cheese. The hot pasta melts the cheese infusing the flavor into every strand. The server twists the pasta around a few times in a dance of flavors, piles the cheesy pasta onto a clean, white bowl then sprinkles on fresh cracked black pepper.

I’m pretty sure that set-up tells you exactly how this dish tastes. It’s a dreamy, luscious bowl of Italian cheese heaven. This was the first time I’ve ordered this dish and I was blown away at how much cheese just a few twists in a cheese wheel can produce. Cheese hugged each bite and the pasta stayed al dente. It was moan-worthy and I urge you to try it for yourself. This is Nino’s most ordered dish, and I now understand why. If you want to pair a wine with this dish, it pairs beautifully with No. 11, the Primito/Cantine Miali from Puglia, Italy. This one has an “Italian Zinfandel” flavor of ripe cherry, blackberry and black cherry as well as a long taste with full body and a black pepper finish. Or, you can pair it with my favorite wine on the menu, No. 1, the Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo/parolvini from Abruzzo, Italy. This red wine is jammy and ripe with blackberry fruit notes.

And don’t forget about dessert. Nino’s offers a large dessert menu including vanilla or chocolate cannoli, tiramisu, limoncello, chocolate lovers spoon cake, New York style cheesecake, salted caramel ice cream, pistachio cheesecake or, my favorite, the homemade almond cookies, which are dreamy little bites of sweet bliss.

No matter what appetizer, entree, pasta, wine or dessert you choose, you will find a dish you will fall in love with and you will frequent Nino’s often just as I do seeking out new flavors to savor time and time again.

Nino’s is open for lunch Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner from 3-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Nino's is also available for catering any event and is the perfect place for your next book club, office party, team meeting, rehearsal dinner, anniversary dinner or any occasion in between. For more information call 252-689-6446, visit their website www.ninoscucinaitaliana.com, or follow them on Instagram @chef_massimo_.

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