Category Archives: Ice Cream

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

Advertisements

Dina’s Best of 2017

As 2017 ends, it’s a time to reflect on all the delicious meals and treats I had this year.  I had some firsts this year that have become favorites:  pupusas,

pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts),

pasteis de nata

adjaruli khachapuri (a Georgian boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter)

and hot pot. 

hot pot at Good Harvest

It was a year of great food with the exception of two disappointing meals, one at one of those cheesy (pun intended) fondue restaurants that served mediocre cheese and another at the much-acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina.  I had high hopes for Chef & the Farmer, especially since I lived in southeastern North Carolina for a number of years and know its farming history, but it turned out to be up there with my Dovetail experience a few years back as one of the worst restaurant meals I’ve ever had.  Regardless, I ate well this year, especially on my New Jersey pizza tour. 

pizza

I declared Star Tavern in Orange, NJ, and Brooklyn’s Coal-Burning Brick-Oven Pizza in Hackensack, NJ, as the best overall pizza in New Jersey with Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ, having the most traditional and flavorful crust. 

ice cream

I did a best ice cream in New Jersey tour too.  My favorite ice cream was from 

  1. Denville Dairy in Denville, NJ–the creamiest soft-serve ice cream.
  2. Magnifico’s in East Brunswick, NJ–best cherry-dipped cone.
  3. Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park, NJ–delicious vegan options.

I discovered Calandra’s Bakery and returned to my childhood with delicious pepperoni bread as well as many other great pastries.


There was a lot more, but these stand out as the most memorable of the year.

Best Ice Cream in New Jersey–My New Jersey Ice Cream Tour Results

The best ice cream in New Jersey is, of course, subjective.  New Jersey is a great state for an ice cream fan.  There are so many places to try.  I sampled ice cream from eleven different ice cream shops around the state and have chosen my top three and listed what stands out the most to me about the shop.

  1. Denville Dairy in Denville, NJ–the creamiest soft-serve ice cream.
  2. Magnifico’s in East Brunswick, NJ–best cherry-dipped cone.
  3. Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park, NJ–delicious vegan options.

New Jersey Ice Cream, Day 11: Ice Hot Teppanyaki, Wildwood, NJ

There are some long lines at Ice Hot Teppanyaki on the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ, but they are not as long as the lines for this type of ice cream in New York City.  So I could finally try it.  It is as fun watching these guys make the ice cream as it is to eat it.  The cream is poured onto a freezing metal surface and manipulated with a spatula until it starts to harden.

Other ingredients are added in,

then it is rolled into a cylindrical shape,

put into a cup, and topped with fruit or cookies, etc. This style of ice cream seems to have originated in Thailand but it is called teppanyaki because a Japanese teppanyaki pan is used to make it.  Teppanyaki is food that is cooked on a griddle like what you get at a Japanese steakhouse.

ice cream, teppanyaki

It’s very pretty and very tasty.

New Jersey Ice Cream, Day 10: Fine Fellows Creamery, Cape May, NJ

Fine Fellows Creamery has a cute retro ’50s soda shop vibe.  It serves Bassetts Ice Cream from Philadelphia.  Bassetts is the oldest ice cream company in America still run by the Bassett family since 1861.  They have a lot of traditional flavors but have changed with the times to include flavors like matcha and pomegranate blueberry chunk. I had never heard of nor tried Bassetts before, so I was curious.  I’m a purist, so I usually opt for vanilla.

ice cream

It was good, but it had the consistency of most retail ice cream, which is to say, it had added gums.  Sure enough, I checked the nutritional information on Bassetts website and it does (and corn syrup).  I would say if you are in Cape May and wanting ice cream, then Fine Fellows is a good option.

New Jersey Ice Cream, Day 9: Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream, Ledgewood, NJ

Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream opened in 1975 by Cliff Freund.

It serves both hard and soft ice cream.  For those who prefer soft serve, there are a lot of flavors here to choose from.


The hard ice cream menu is quite extensive and a lot of flavors sounded interesting to me, Smurf not being one of them.  I liked Bavarian Creame Raspberry Truffle.  My friend did also, so we both got two scoops.  As you can see from this photo, my friend’s scoops were a lot larger than mine and they had truffles, which you couldn’t see in mine.

ice cream

Despite these inconsistencies, the ice cream was good.

New Jersey Ice Cream, Day 8: Denville Dairy, Denville, NJ

Denville Dairy has been around for 50 years, so you know they are doing something right.  The shop was created by Jack Fine, who passed away in 2013, and is now run by his children.  They serve hard and soft ice cream as well as ice cream sandwiches, cakes, pies and more.  I had to go for a vanilla soft serve here because I had a feeling it was going to be creamy and delicious.  I was right.  This was one of the best vanilla soft serve ice creams I have ever had.  It has that wonderfully creamy mouthfeel and slight tang that I look for in vanilla ice cream.

ice cream