Category Archives: Local

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

by Dina Di Maio

Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash

I’m a harsh judge of pizza. For a few good reasons. My parents owned a pizzeria. People in my family have owned pizzerias in the U.S. as early as the 1930s.  Both sides of my family are from Naples. And I wrote a book with a chapter on the history of pizza, Authentic Italian.

Authentic Italian

I’m qualified to write about pizza, and since I’ve lived in the Triangle off and on since 1993, I’m qualified to write about pizza in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Pizza should be judged on 3 criteria, and 3 criteria only: 1. Crust 2. Sauce 3. Cheese

Crust is the most important component and an especially difficult one to master. If you cannot make a decent dough, you shouldn’t be making pizza. (The best crust I ever had was at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven.)

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Having said that, I’ve tried pizza at many of the area’s pizzerias, although not all, because despite the fact that pizza is so ingrained in my blood and heritage, it’s actually not one of my personally favorite foods. However, I am well-schooled in its craft and know a good one from a bad one.

One can find New York, Neapolitan, Chicago style and Turkish pide in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other areas of the Triangle. Unfortunately, most I have had were mediocre.

Oakwood Pizza Box

I’ve been pizza-wowed only once in Raleigh. And that was at Oakwood Pizza Box, which I think is an example of good crust, sauce and cheese, and the best example of pizza to be found in the Triangle. Not a surprise from the owners of the former Bella Mia in Cary, a since-closed pizzeria that was also one of my favorites in the Triangle. The owner, Anthony Guerra, is an Italian American from New York with ancestry from Basilicata, a region of Southern Italy.

Have I had an OK pie elsewhere? Yes. I can’t say I’m an expert on Chicago style, although I’ve had a really good one in Chicago, but if I’m in the mood for it or the occasion arises, I go to Nancy’s in North Raleigh, a local franchise of the pizzeria chain created by Italian immigrants who patterned the pizza after a traditional Easter pie.

Nancy’s Pizzeria

I had a decent pie at Anna’s in Apex (while I like their regular pie, I wasn’t a fan of their grandma pizza). In Durham, Pizzeria Toro and Pie Pushers were OK, the latter especially if you like a cheesier pie.

Pizzeria Toro

Pie Pushers

Now and again, I enjoy an eggplant pizza from Frank’s Pizza, a classic old-fashioned pizza parlor. If I’m reminiscing for the simpler times of Raleigh, I’ll go to Mellow Mushroom or Lilly’s. Salvio’s is my go-to for New York-style. On the rare occasion I’m in Rolesville, I’ve enjoyed Pie-Zano’s, a pizzeria owned by Italians from New Jersey. If I want Turkish pide, I go to Istanbul or Bosphorus in Cary.

pide from Istanbul Restaurant

I like the chain Piola for the Brazilian catupiry cheese, created by an Italian immigrant to the country.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

All of these have something interesting to offer, even though some are chains or part of restaurant groups or not owned by Italians or Italian Americans. There aren’t older Italian-American pizzerias in North Carolina because Italians didn’t immigrate to the state due to its painful history toward Italian immigrants the first half of the last century.*

Generally, I don’t want a pizzeria that supports shareholders/investors or people looking to capitalize on pizza’s popularity, although sometimes it’s unavoidable, say if you’re out with a group and everyone decides to go to one of those places. I feel that if a restaurant group or chain wants to capitalize on an Italian and Italian-American food, it should give something back to the Italian-American community. Acknowledge the history of Italian Americans. Maybe donate to a scholarship fund for local Italian Americans. Or donate to an Italian-American organization, museum, or charity somewhere in the United States to in some way honor the heritage from which you are borrowing.

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

What do I want in a pizza? Is it too much to ask for that Di Fara’s Pizza pride, the heritage, the craftsmanship? Domenico De Marco became a legend because of his obsessive devotion to pizza. That, and the fact that he makes one of the best dang pies around. One can’t expect that from every pizzeria, but what stands out to me is a pizza that stays true to my heritage and that supports a local family business and the cultural history of pizza. Oh, yeah, it has to taste good too.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

*(There is a town named Valdese that was settled by Protestant Northern Italians, but their foodways are different from Southern Italians, who originated pizza as we know it.)

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.

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North Carolina Zabaglione

Zabaglione is an Italian custard made from only eggs, not eggs and milk.* It comes from the Piedmont area of Italy, but I’m claiming it for the Piedmont of North Carolina. Why, you may ask? Well, it is a staple dessert of the Waldensian people from Northwestern Italy who settled the town of Valdese, North Carolina, 125 years ago. In Valdese, it is known as zabaione. I have made it even more North Carolina by using Raleigh, North Carolina’s own Oak City Amaretto, instead of the traditional wine.

North Carolina Zabaglione

1 dozen egg yolks from pasteurized eggs

1/3 cup superfine sugar

3 tablespoons (1 shot) Oak City Amaretto

amaretti cookies

In the top of a double boiler (off the heat) whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the amaretto and continue whisking until frothy. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water and bring to a simmer or slight boil. Put the top pot in the double boiler and whisk vigorously for 3-4 minutes until the mixture looks like a smooth custard. There is a risk that you could get scrambled eggs, so you want to whisk continuously and with a strong arm. Serve immediately or slightly warm in sherbet glasses. Serve with amaretti cookies.

*I have seen some recipes that use milk as well, but most of the traditional and older recipes do not.

–Dina M. Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

Some South American Italian in the Triangle at Piola

When Italians settled in the United States about 100 years ago, some also settled in South America, especially Argentina. However, a critical difference is that the majority of Italian immigrants to the United States were from Southern Italy and the majority to South America were from Northern Italy. So the Italian food in both areas reflects that. I write about Italian food in South America and around the globe in my new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com.

Authentic Italian

One of the things I write about in the book is catupiry cheese, a soft cheese that tastes like a cross between ricotta and velvety burrata. Catupiry cheese was created in 1911 by a Brazilian Italian named Mario Silvestrini. For the most part, it is used in the same way we use cream cheese. However, it is different from cream cheese. It is also used on pizza and you can try it in the Triangle at Piola in North Hills in Raleigh. Piola is an Italian pizza chain from Treviso (near Venice in Northeastern Italy) with locations in Italy, South America and Raleigh.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

Another interesting South American Italian tradition that I mention in my book is eating ñoqui/ñoquis, or gnocchi, on the 29th of the month. Piola highlights this tradition. While Southern Italians eat gnocchi as well, it is associated more with Northern Italian cuisine, and that is probably why it is more popular in South American countries with Italian populations, like Argentina and Uruguay.

Gnocchi Legnano from Piola

–Dina Di Maio

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

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

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Monument to First Italian-American Settler

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

In front of the Italian American Museum on Mulberry and Grand Streets is a monument dedicated to the first Italian settler to the United States, Peter Caesar Alberti, who came on June 2, 1635.

–Dina Di Maio

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Vinny’s Nut House

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Vinny’s Nut House

Vinny’s Nut House is a street cart owned by Vincent Sabatino, who was born and raised in Little Italy. He sells torrone, which is an Italian nougat, as well as roasted nuts and Italian cookies like anisette toasts and lemon cookies. The stand is on Mulberry and Grand outside of the Italian American Museum.

–Dina Di Maio