7 Italian American-Owned Food Businesses in the Carolinas

Here is a list of some of my favorite local food products and food trucks in North Carolina and South Carolina owned by Italian Americans.

Nellino’s Sauce Co.–A pasta sauce company started in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Italian-American Neal McTighe based on his mother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes for classic sauces like marinara or tomato and basil made with good ingredients.

 

Melina’s Fresh Pasta–Italian-American owner Carmella makes classic fresh pastas like spaghetti and linguine as well as many creative ravioli like roasted red pepper & feta or goat cheese & honey. There’s even the pimento cheese ravioli. She also teaches pasta making classes in Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Barone Meatball Company–Serving up classic Italian meatballs as well as fun creations like buffalo chicken meatballs and vegetarian ricotta balls. Owned by Italian-American Stephen Dewey, based in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Oak City Amaretto–An Italian-American amaretto made by Italian-American Anthony Scalabrino from a recipe inspired by his grandmother’s homemade amaretto, made in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Benny T’s Vesta–The first dry hot sauce available in five grades of heat made from a variety of fresh chile peppers grown in North Carolina, created by Italian-American chile enthusiast Ben Tuorto.

 

Charleston Bloody Mary Mix–A bloody Mary mix made by Italian-American Ryan Eleuteri that has all good ingredients and no horseradish–its distinctive flavor comes from a habanero mash, made in Charleston, South Carolina, found throughout the East Coast and Midwest.

 

Mr. A’s Beignets–A food truck serving delicious beignets and coffee with chicory New Orleans style in Apex, North Carolina, owned by Italian-American Arlton Cangelosi.

 

All photos in this article were used with permission of their respective owners.

–Dina Di Maio

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Valdese, A North Carolina Mountain Town Settled by Italian Immigrants, Celebrates 125 Years This Year

Valdese, North Carolina, is a town in the western part of North Carolina with green valley pastures and rolling hills. In 1893, 125 years ago, it was settled by a group of Italians from the Alps in the region of Italy known as the Piedmont.

They were called Waldensians because they practiced the Waldensian faith. Persecuted for their religion for centuries, in the late 19th century, they saw a population boom and branched out to live elsewhere. A group founded Valdese and created a lasting legacy. Valdese is a good day trip from most of North Carolina’s major cities. On August 10-11, 2018, the city celebrates its 125th anniversary with the Waldensian Festival. Here are some sights to see in Valdese:

  1. Village Park Mural–A beautifully painted mural in an outdoor park on Main Street detailing the history of the Waldensians from their start to their founding of Valdese.  
  2. Waldensian Heritage Museum on Rodoret Street–The museum is a must-stop to learn more of the day-to-day life of the Waldensian people with examples of their traditional dress as well as a replica of a Waldensian home. The museum also has a really nice gift shop with books and gifts from and about Italy and the Waldensians. 
  3. Waldensian Presbyterian Church–In 1895, the Waldensian Church became part of the Presbyterian Church. During the festival, the church sponsors a traditional Waldensian meal. 
  4. Waldensian Trail of Faith–Here, you can tour the replica of a Waldensian village in the Alps. 
  5. From This Day Forward–an outdoor drama from the Old Colony Players about the Waldensians of Valdese. It celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. 
  6. Waldensian Heritage Winery–The winery was founded in 1930 by Waldensians where they use traditional methods to make wine.

    me at a wedding at the winery

  7. Bocce courts–Bocce is a favorite pastime of the locals, as is evidenced by the bocce courts off Main Street. 
  8. Le Phare des Alpes–The Valdese Men’s Club started as a mutual aid society created by the Waldensians. Today, it hosts the North Carolina Bocce Tournament. During the festival, you can check out the bocce tournament and also sample some handmade soutisso, the local Waldensian sausage that I wrote about for Primo magazine. (Scroll down the page for the recipe.) 
  9. 100 Main–A restaurant on Main Street that serves soutisso a few different ways, but also the traditional way with green beans and potatoes. 
  10. Local street signs, architecture and cemetery–Waldensian culture is evident in the names of local streets, in architecture of older buildings and houses, and in the names of those buried in the local cemetery. 

–Dina Di Maio

Villa Tronco: Historic Italian (and Oldest) Restaurant in South Carolina

My new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, debunks myths about Italian food in the United States. One of those myths is that returning GIs from World War II brought pizza back from Italy to America and that’s how pizza became popular in America. DEBUNKED. Pizza was already here–brought by the Italian immigrants of 100 years ago who opened Italian restaurants around the country wherever they settled. Villa Tronco is one such restaurant, opened in 1940, which predates WWII, and it claims to have introduced pizza to South Carolina. (It is also the oldest operating restaurant in South Carolina.)

The family originates from Naples and Sicily, according to owner Joe Roche. The Carnaggio family first moved to Columbia in 1910 and opened a fruit store. From Philadelphia, James Tronco was stationed nearby during World War I. He met the daughter, Sadie, and they married, eventually opening what would later become Villa Tronco.

Current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Carmella Roche, details the racial discrimination her grandparents endured in an article in the Cola Daily, such as having to sit at the back of the bus and having to use non-white bathrooms. (In my book, I also discuss racial discrimination that Italians endured in the United States.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining there and meeting one of the owners. Villa Tronco is located in a historic firehouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

And you can still see the exposed brick in one of the dining rooms.

The menu details the history of the restaurant.

Of course, while visiting I ordered the pizza. The pizza here is a square pie cut into square slices. It is a thin crust pie with a crunch. The tomato sauce is fresh and tomatoey–not herby. There’s a good amount of cheese.

For dinner, I ordered one of the specials, a pork with creamy polenta dish. I really enjoyed this dish. The pork was cooked perfectly, through but not dry, and the creamy polenta was a delicious accompaniment.

My friend got the eggplant parmigiana and enjoyed it.

For dessert, we got Carmella’s famous cheesecake. It is excellent.

And a generous serving of some tricolored spumoni ice cream. Yum!

–Dina Di Maio

My Book, Authentic Italian, Is Now Available

Authentic Italian

Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People

by Dina M. Di Maio

Available from Amazon.com

Pizza. Spaghetti and meatballs. Are these beloved foods Italian or American?

Italy declares pizza from Naples the only true pizza, but what about New York, New Haven, and Chicago pizza? The media says spaghetti and meatballs isn’t found in Italy, but it exists around the globe. Worldwide, people regard pizza and spaghetti and meatballs as Italian. Why? Because the Italian immigrants to the United States brought their foodways with them 100 years ago and created successful food-related businesses. But a new message is emerging–that the only real Italian food comes from the contemporary Italian mainland. However, this ideology negatively affects Italian Americans, who still face discrimination that pervades the culture–from movies and TV to religion, academia, the workplace, and every aspect of their existence.

In Authentic Italian, Italian-American food writer Dina M. Di Maio explores the history and food contributions of Italian immigrants in the United States and beyond. With thorough research and evidence, Di Maio proves the classic dishes like pizza and spaghetti and meatballs so beloved by the world are, indeed, Italian. Much more than a food history, Authentic Italian packs a sociopolitical punch and shows that the Italian-American people made Italian food what it is today. They and their food are real, true, and authentic Italian.

Columbus Day: Italian Americans vs. Native Americans?

I understand that Columbus Day is a controversial holiday to some. Saying that Columbus “discovered” America is denying the Native Americans who were already living on this land. But no one can argue that Columbus’s landing here precipitated events that led to the formation of the United States of America. And that is something to celebrate—the first country in the world founded on principles and ideas.

Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since at least the mid-1800s, when immigrants from Italy started arriving in the country, but it had been celebrated by the American people prior to Italian immigration. In later years, it became a source of pride for Italian immigrants and new Italian Americans born in the United States, a group that was historically discriminated against. It’s unfortunate that Columbus Day seems to be Italian Americans versus Native Americans, when these are two groups who historically suffered discrimination (and genocide). I can understand why Native Americans would not want to celebrate a day that led to the eventual taking of their land and the killing of their people. But I think maybe a bit of Italian history might help them understand the Italian side of things.

Many people have heard that Garibaldi united Italy in the 1860s, but what they don’t realize is that Italy didn’t want to be united. Southern Italy was a part of a different kingdom, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After unification, Southern Italians rebelled. The government labeled these rebels as brigands to make it sound like they were a bunch of thieves, rather than the patriots they were. Even Benjamin Disraeli spoke of them as patriots. At this time, they were not just killing brigands, but any Southern Italian they could. Naples had been the third largest city after Paris and London, and soon it was raped of its resources and the funds reallocated to Northern Italy for economic improvements there. This is a revisionist history that until late, has been largely forgotten—and purposely so. The situation in Southern Italy became more and more devastating that through the years of the 1870s to the 1920s, more and more Italians left, many coming to the United States. Most of these immigrants were from Southern Italy. But, unfortunately, they left one country that didn’t want them for another that didn’t want them. They suffered much discrimination and prejudice in the United States. They were forced to worship in the basement of predominantly Irish Catholic churches. They were lynched in the South. Some Southern states banned them from living in their states in the early 1900s.

But Southern Italians were a hardy people and were fighters, much like Native Americans. They had cities in Southern Italy dating back 10,000 years. Matera, in the southern state of Basilicata, is one such ancient city, where The Passion of the Christ was filmed because of its sassi, or houses carved in stone. Some of the older tribes of Italians were the Lucanians of this area and also the Samnites and Sabines of South-Central Italy. The Samnites were great warriors with a developed civilization alongside the Roman one. They had three wars with the Romans, and eventually lost to them. The Romans knew they had a formidable enemy, so they committed a genocide of the Samnites. Many did survive because they were familiar with the interior mountains of Italy and could hide. Others blended in with Roman society (Pontius Pilate was one of them). There is a famous battle, the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC, where they defeated the Romans. The people from this area are still proud of this battle against the Romans. It is near the village where my grandfather was born, and I am a Samnite. Now, that was in 321 BC—a long time ago and yet I still identify with these people and this battle. It is still a great source of pride for me. Because I know that the Romans didn’t kill us off—because I’m still here. And the Northern Italians didn’t kill us off in the 1800s—because I’m still here. And the prejudice and discrimination we endured—and continue to endure as an “Other”ized group in the United States didn’t and doesn’t dissuade us—we are still here.

And I am sure that is how the Native Americans feel, a sense of loss but a sense of pride for fighting. I can always go back to Italy, even though I am culturally American. The homeland where my family comes from still exists albeit in a different way since millions of its children came from Southern Italy to America. Native Americans don’t have a homeland. Their homeland is here, a completely different place that was historically unkind to them and treated them much like the Roman Empire treated the Samnites, a nuisance standing in the way of Roman domination. But the Native Americans proudly fought, a fact I and many people greatly admire.

As an Italian American, I hate that Columbus Day makes Native Americans feel less than or as an “Other”ized group because my people were made to feel like an “Other”ized group and that is one reason Columbus Day is a source of pride for Italian Americans. I grew up near the Lumbee tribe and I do recognize the Lumbees as an official tribe. I also saw “Other”ization of them firsthand and experienced “Other”ization myself. I am hoping with more insight into this lost Italian history—that is never really told to a wider audience than Italian American academics, maybe Native Americans will see that they have more in common with Italian Americans and that Columbus Day isn’t about the beginning of the end for them. Just like the Samnites and Southern Italians, they fought and they are still here. And we are all Americans in the United States, a country that we love and hate, hate for its painful history but love for its progressive laws.

–Dina Di Maio, Esq.

***All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.***

Publisher Seeks Food Poems for Anthology

Richer Resources is looking for food poems for an upcoming anthology.

Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

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I saw these peanut butter Cheerio bars from Cookin’ Cowgirl and had some cereal on hand so I decided to make them. I used multigrain Cheerios and corn flakes. I didn’t have corn syrup, so I used golden syrup instead which actually made a really sweet bar. Now, I wanted to make the version in the smaller pan, but when I was done with the ingredients, it fit only in the larger pan.

These are really tasty and disappear quickly!