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Italiano in Durham Chapel Hill

Ok, so I moved to the Triangle a couple of years ago from the New York area, and I have had a hard time finding a reliable Italian restaurant. Coming from NYC, the bar is quite high for me. I had no idea serving good, simple, honest Southern Italian was such a daunting task. I've found two places so far that make decent red sauces: One in Meadowmont (La Russa's) and the other out in Chatham county that just opened call Vincenzo's (the chef is from Brooklyn... surprise). Panzanella's is good too (killer lamb ragu), but they're not quite as "down-home" Italian as I'd like. Any others out there?

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  1. Could you tell us a bit more about Vincenzo's in Chatham (where in Chatham, price range, etc.)? I googled but only found Vincenzo's in Winston-Salem and Asheville.

    Also, for italian, I enjoy Pop's in Durham near Brightleaf and Piedmont downtown but I wouldn't call either Southern Italian or down-home.

    I've been taken to 411 West in CH several times but never was impressed. I've meant to try Trilussa on Franklin but it has never worked out.

    Piedmont Restaurant
    401 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701

    810 W Peabody St, Durham, NC 27701

    2 Replies
    1. re: brokegradstudent

      We were really disappointed with Trilussa when we tried it, but that was 3 years ago, so they may be better now. But given the lack of crowds, you sort of assume not. I love Panzanella and Piedmont, but don't know of anything more down-home that i'd recommend in the area.

      1. re: brokegradstudent

        I too moved here from NYC and after 10 years still miss the type of restarant you are looking for the standard New York neighborhood Italian place. Piedmont and Pop's while fine restaurants do not fit that bill. You may want to try one of the Cinelli's or one of it's sister restarants Gianni and Gaetano's. They are kind of a local chain and are in Raleigh, Wake Forest, Cary, & I think Durham. Other than that do what we do and lern to cook everything you miss at home.

      2. Not a lot of "down-home" Italians settled here back in the day like they did in NYC.
        North Carolina: not a big Italian stronghold. You can't just export that kind of culinary depth that easily. So, enjoy all the great places around here for what they are and travel back to NYC for the authentic American-Italian fare you love so much.

        1 Reply
        1. re: suse

          Well put Suse, there wasn't a history of Sicilian or Neapolitan immigrants in NC, so buy Rao's cookbook & enjoy (I the former New Yorker did) we certainly have all the great ingredients at the local markets. In fact Harris Teeter has Rao's sauces & they are terrific if you adore Italian-American food.

        2. What do folks think of Pulcinella in the Woodcroft strip mall at the corner of Hope Valley (751) and 54 in Durham? It's nothing fancy, but that's my favorite red-sauce place. And for what it's worth, the owner (I think) is Italian.

          Anyway, I always hesitate to recommend an Italian place because it seems like people have such varying tastes....

          10 Replies
          1. re: clee0601105

            Didn't Pulcinella close? Or has it since reopened?

            1. re: abowes

              Pulcinella's is open and doing well. It's also my favorite casual neighborhood place for a plate of pasta. Great pizza to, as they make their own dough. And I agree that the red sauce is always really tasty, definitely not out of a can.

              1. re: Lucydevil

                What was the place in Homestead (Fayetteville @ 54), that had a pasta store next door???

                1. re: abowes

                  No-that was Pasta Bella and it is out of business. I used to really like that place. The owner Don was really nice and always seemed to remember me and my friends. It closed almost a year ago under suspicious circumstances.

            2. re: clee0601105

              DH and I went here last night, prompted entirely by this conversation. I thought, what the heck, we're headed to that area, let's check it out.

              I had the gnocchi special, add sausage. The sauce on the gnocchi was kinda pink - tomato and cheese, I'd guess - and I liked it quite a lot. There were little cubes of fresh mozzerella sprinkled and melting slowly atop - it was definitely a pleasant additional texture/taste. I was really glad I added the sausage, as the waiter recommended, as I liked the taste and it significantly helped mediate the texture issues I had with the gnocchi. The gnocchi itself was much too dense and floury for my tastes.

              DH had the manicotti, which he was perfectly pleased with.

              The side salad that came with the meal was notably better than most side salads - using green leaf lettuce, nice grape tomatoes cut in half, and a scattering of radish and green bell pepper (also onion on DH's, left off mine by request).

              The waiter highly recommended the house dressing, and brought some for us to try. I tasted it - it was nifty, reminded me of gaspacho. DH liked it and used it on his salad.

              The waiter also highly recommended the tiramisu, but we decided to leave that for another time.

              Speaking of the waiter - I really was pleased with his service.

              We'll be back. It's simple, but perfect for a weeknight out with my honey.

              1. re: abowes

                I'm so happy you had a nice time! If you get a chance, try their eggplant rolatini with spinach (I forget the name they gave it, but it tastes to me like eggplant rolatini with spinach instead of ham) -- it only comes out once in a while on the specials menu.

                1. re: clee0601105

                  Noted, clee. I did see eggplant rolatini (the regular way) on the menu, and was tempted - it was my favorite thing on the menu at... phooey, what was it - that little family place on Hillsborough (Durham) in the "shopping center" across Hillsborough from the Kroger. But gnocchi is an option I am unable to pass up now-a-days (along with spinach artichoke dip and creme brulee - I'm on a mission to taste everyone's take on it :-)

                  The waiter said his favorites were Pollo Bianco or Pollo Marsala. Has anyone here got an opinion on these dishes? The combination of a) the presence of gnocchi in the room and b) the fact that he pronounced it polo ruled them out for that particular night. But I'd probably try one of 'em next time unless warned away here.

                  BTW, the serving of gnocchi was HUGE (like 3-4 times the size I'm used to getting... of course, I've only had the stuff 4 other times before - twice at Rue Cler (the first was my first, and I fell in love. the second time ... if it had been my first it might well have been my last - tasted delicious but had the texture of lumpy mashed potatoes) and twice at Another Thyme (wonderful both times)


                  1. re: abowes

                    Hey Alison, since you're on a quest for gnocchi, you should try it at Piedmont . . . when it's good, it's very very good.

                    1. re: rossgrady

                      I LOVE the gnocchi at Rue Cler. I've had two different gnocchis there that just killed me they were so good.

                      Just FYI- the double L is actually pronounced L in italian, unlike in spanish. think of the word bella.

                      1. re: rossgrady

                        Thanks, Ross. I do keep meaning to go back there, but haven't managed it yet. Friends really want us to try brunch with them there soon. Gnocchi for brunch - unlikely, no? Guess I need to try to get there twice soon!

              2. Seriously, Suse is correct. What a wonderful opportunity to enjoy visits "back home" for you. When I lived in New England for a bit, it was lovely to be able to come home for grits and country ham and liver pudding and spoon bread and ... well I think you get the idea.

                When you come right down to it, NC isn't NY, and thank goodness for the differences for all of us, though I have to confess I wouldn't mind seeing just one NY-deli be able to survive down here some day.

                3 Replies
                1. re: fussycouple

                  There is no ideal solution to the NC Italian problem, but the restaurant that comes closest to authentic Northeast Red Sauce is Bella Napoli in Cary. It's owned by Italian northeasterners who make their own mozzarella, know how to cook pasta properly al dente, and make an excellent marinara. If you order wisely, it becomes a perfectly authentic experience. The weaknesses are bread and dessert.

                  1. re: Sinophile

                    There really isn't a "NC Italian problem". If you don't like the area food don't live here. I lived in NYC for nine months and Honk Kong for three months, and I didn't whine about the "NY Southern food problem".. That said, try Fratello's at Brier Creek. Very annoying NY'ers that serve up some great food.

                    1. re: like2run

                      I couldn't agree more. If I hear one more person kvetching about how "there's no good Italian here, and I'm a New Yorker so I KNOW Italian," blah blah blah, I think I'll scream. I would never go to NY and expect to find the kind of quality Southern cooking I grew up with in Charleston, and you know what? I'm perfectly fine with that. Each area of the country has its own specialties, and that's what makes each region interesting and unique.

                      Back on topic, I have seen mixed reviews, but I've always had good food at Nina's in North Raleigh. The service has also been very good when I've dined there. I do have to side with the non-fans of Cinelli's - having dined there several times for lunch and dinner, I keep hoping it will improve, and it never does. The food is uninspired and calls to mind Chef Boyardee, and the service at the North Hills location couldn't be much more lackadaisical. I seem to get dragged there frequently by coworkers, though, so if anyone has a favorite dish there, please recommend it! I'd love to like this place.

                2. A friend of mine just went to Vincenzo's and raved. I would love to hear what other's think of it, because it's not anywhere I would normally go.

                  I love LaRussa's not only for their Italian deli-ness, but also for their store-made pastas and sauces. It reminds me of my favorite Italian grocery in DC!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ksherk

                    I have had three good meals at Vincenzo's and I am looking forward to going again. I consider their food to be "classic" Italian. Traditional dishes, great gravy. A real heart warmer for an NC transplant starved for northern NJ food. I understand they have a couple of places in Raleigh, the location on Mt. Carmel Church Road (just opposite the entrance to the Governor's Club) is a satellite. They don't take reservations unless you have a larger party (maybe 5 or more, I think) and when I have been there they fill up very quick. So go early.

                  2. I once drove from CH to Greensborough to get imported mortadella. You are out of luck honey. (you probably know this but are hoping there's some hidden gem ?)

                    My favorite cookbook: La Cucina di Gangivecchio
                    My favorite substitute for italian hams: NC grown canadian bacon
                    Best fresh mozzarella: Costco has imported buffalo mozz at a ver good price, chapel hill creamery makes a nice cow milk mozz.
                    WF is best for parmigiano, romano di fulvi, pomi tomatoes
                    I've been here for 1 year, and have learned to eat more fresh biscuits, grits, and sweet tea (all things i loved previously but eat more regularly now) to compensate for the lack of italian grocery items and good chinese restaurants...a reason to visit NY.

                    8 Replies
                      1. re: RaleighRocker

                        ok, let's just say that there is a huge Southern food problem in NY to equal the lack of Italian food here. I never had a real biscuit before moving here. People up North think a biscuit is a very tough scone with no flavor. Alternatively, a biscuit is English for cookie...
                        one thing they do really well here, though, is polenta! ha-ha. better than any place up North I've tried!

                        Point is: learn to cook Italian, or save it for your next trip North.

                        1. re: RaleighRocker

                          I had a really disappointing lunch at Cinelli's today. First time I've been there. I ordered a chicken parmesan sub. It came over cooked, and was less than 6 inches long. Plus, I ordered a drink that never came. Could be an isolated incident, but I would think a chicken parmesan sub is something pretty basic for an Italian restaurant.

                          Cinelli's Pizza
                          607 Broad St, Durham, NC 27705

                          1. re: scarrie

                            I never understood the Cinelli's fan base. I think it's below-par expensive food aimed at Duke students with little taste and lots of money....

                            (That's not a comment about all Duke students...)

                            1. re: termite

                              I have not been to the Durham Cinelli's and can not comment, the other Cinell's and the new Gianni and Gaetano's owned by the same family I have always liked, not the best but as close to what I remember from home as I have found.

                              Also a Sub is not restarant food but Pizzaria food. An Italian restarant should not be judged on the junk food subs (or heroes back in NYC), but its real food like veal, chiken or beef dishes and of cause its pasta. I would love to find an italian resarant that has 5 to 8 veal dishes all based on distintive sauces and not just red sauce.

                              1. re: chazzer

                                Point taken, but that was easily the worst meal I've had at a restaurant in 2 years at a ridiculous price ($9? for a 6" chicken sandwich?). Let's hope their other menu items are better.

                            2. re: scarrie

                              Cinelli's was not a favorite of mine to begin with, but I had a particularly bad experience a couple of weeks ago. The food took forever (we actually think they misplaced our order). "Forever" = 30-45 minutes for a pizza.

                          2. re: fara

                            For Italian grocery items, you really do need to visit Capri Flavors, located on Morrisville Parkway in Cary. www.capriflavors.com

                          3. Anyone have thoughts on San Marcos on Falls of the Neuse in Raleigh? I've eaten in NYC Italian and Baltimore Italian and I've put San Marcos up there with anything I had in NYC or Baltimore. The waiter told me he'd buy my dessert if I didn't like the tira misu(one of my test dishes) and I felt like buying him a slice-it was SO GOOD.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: realjuel

                              Is that San Marco or San Carlo? The one near the Kohl's, right? It's owned by the same people who own Schiano's pizza. I ate there once and it was okay, nothing special, not bad but not worth going out of my way for.

                              I've been wanting to try Bella Italia on Durant Road but haven't been able to make it there when they've been open. Anyone have any comments on it?

                              Btw, I'm an ex-Brooklynite married to an ex-Queens resident. I think we're all very loyal to the style of Italian-American neighborhood restaurant we grew up with. Nothing down here comes close to it, but then again, neither do any of the Italian restaurants in Boston (where I also lived for a number of years). And NONE of them approach the quality of nearly any street-side trattoria in Italy. Still, I have a very soft spot for Brooklyn-Italian cooking and would love to see an Italian restaurant in this area that doesn't feel the need to feature a pizzeria menu with a few "real" dishes sprinkled in for effect. I'm sure any place like that would have a very tough go of it, though. The bottom line rules.

                            2. I am kind of surprised that nobody mentioned Francesca's on Erwin Rd across from Duke University Medical Center. While the place is not the nicest, the food is great (it's been three years since I've lived in the Triangle so it's possible that's changed). The family that owns it is from the Bronx, and are very nice guys who like to get to know their customers. It was the most similar to the New York italian I grew up on.

                              1. We're from NYC and like the food and the atmosphere at Tosca quite a bit. Red sauce is wonderful, meatballs and spaghetti is one of my husband's favorites. I usually find one of the specials irresistable - raviolis especially. It's open for lunch and dinner and they have outside dining. Tosca is in Durham in the West Village complex. We like it a lot.

                                Now in return, where is Vicenzo's? Don't keep it a secret. In fact, we'd head over there tonight if we knew where it was.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: yahooer

                                  I found Vicenzo's. It's in the Governors Club shopping center, phone is 338-8015. We'll give it a try tomorrow and post if it's good. Spoke to the people there and it sounds like it might be quite all right.

                                2. For Italian American food, I like Bocci in Durham (near Southpoint), Pulcinella's (but I haven't been recently) in the Woodcroft shopping center in Durham plus there's Lubrano's in Morrisville, on Hwy 54.

                                  I really liked Pasta Bella (RIP) but I considered that Italian and not Italian American. It wasn't cheap but it was very good.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Chow Penguin

                                    I'm with you on Bocci. I had a nice brick-oven pizza there just the other day.

                                    1. re: suse

                                      Anyone tried menu items at Bocci? Recently had lunch with a large group and I ordered NY Style pizza. It was ok- not the real thing but not terrible. But the appetizers were clearly from frozen and ranged from uninspiring but not awful (calamari) to awful (scallops wrapped in prosciutto, a gag inducing off flavor and sausage stuffed mushrooms,blech). I was so happy I ordered pizza when the meals arrived. One salmon dish consisted of an over cooked salmon fillet surrounded by mounds of brown risotto! It looked awful. Another order of Italian wedding soup- contained ground beef instead of traditional meatballs, tortellini and enough spinach to choke a horse it was also made with a tomato broth, very strange. Maybe they should stick to pizza.

                                      1. re: arabrabneslin

                                        The brick oven pizza at Bocci is wonderful.

                                  2. IMO Vincenzo's, or what is now Tarantini (diff name same menu, same wack ass food) is not good at all, I have no idea how a place that struggles to make a passable lasagna or ravioli passes for italian food. They have good pizza's, but even their sandwiches are not good, and dont ever think about ordering a seafood dish, you could get better from the food lion next door, and that is sad.