All the great Italian restaurants have great Italian names; Babbo, Del Posto, Vetri, Spiaggia, Scampo, Brico. That's why a little place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina flew totally under my radar. I have friends there and over years of multiple visits I thought I had eaten at and/or reviewed most of the Italian restaurants in the city. Somehow when searching for Italian restaurants, a place called BLL Rotisserie Factory just didn't register. My friend has lived in Winston-Salem for more than twenty-five years and, as it turns out, the place is located two doors down from where he gets his hair cut. And he still had never heard of it.
It would not have come to my notice were it not for an item Google News flagged on my computer. Visiting Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim declared that he had enjoyed “the best meal I ever had on the road” at an Italian place in Winston-Salem. He compared the meal to “a New York City Italian dinner.” He didn't name the place, but left enough clues that I was able to track it down. Expecting maybe Fratelli's Italian Steakhouse or Vincenzo's or Carmine's, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be BLL Rotisserie Factory.
Okay. When you get to the out-of-the-way strip mall on Knollwood Street in the shadow of the Bank of America building and Krispy Kreme's corporate headquarters, you'll clearly see “Ristorante Italiano and Pizzeria” writ large above the door. When you enter, you'll likely hear strains of “Vesta di Giubba” or “Funiculi Funicula” filling the air. You'll see Italian artwork on the walls, and you will, of course, breathe in the unmistakable aroma of Italian food. Yep, this is the place. But why the outward name that speaks nothing of the inward identity?
According to proprietor Simone Vicidomini, the letters “BLL” were the initials of a cousin with whom he co-founded the restaurant. As far as the “Rotisserie Factory” part, it seems the place specializes in rotisserie chicken. Their menu states that the chicken is prepared “following the perfection of the Italian tradition.” But an Italian rotisserie chicken joint is still a new one on me. Okay, there's a place called “Ristorante La Spada” on the Via della Spada in Firenze that features rotisserie chicken, so let's just say that such a place is rare.
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon just before the start of what turned out to be a very busy dinner service. There were only two other tables seated when we got there, but that changed quickly as the service progressed. We were guided to a table by a pleasant hostess and served by a very friendly and efficient waiter named Willie. Willie has been on staff at BLL for sixteen of its twenty-one years. And after all that time, he couldn't properly pronounce “bruschetta,” which, if you've ever read anything else I've written, is a major no-no for me. I've walked out of places over “broo-SHET-uh” and “mare-uh-NARE-uh.” I don't say you've got to be able to converse in flawless Italian, but I firmly believe that anyone who works in an Italian eatery should at least be familiar with pronouncing basic Italian food. But it was Italian food and not Italian conversation that I was seeking, so I pressed on and ordered.
I'm very glad I did. I like to judge new places by their simplest pizza or pasta. If they can't get the simple stuff right, what chance do they have with more complicated dishes? So I ordered a cheese pizza, the closest thing to vera pizza napoletana that most American places can manage. It was perfetto. A flavorful thin crust with just the right amount of crispness and chewiness, covered by a house-made tomato sauce that was the tiniest bit sweet for my taste, but nonetheless delightful. This was topped by the perfect amount of mozzarella, all baked to golden perfection.
My wife and our dinner companion opted for the rotisserie chicken. Rather than more traditional Italian fare like cannelloni, ravioli or one of the other pasta offerings, they wanted to sample the specialty of the house. Each got a half-chicken with two vegetables. Both got mashed potatoes – not exactly an Italian staple, but appropriate to the dish. My wife went with asparagus and our friend chose broccoli. Both proclaimed the chicken to be moist, tender, and flavorful. My wife was particularly impressed but was unable to finish the rather large portion, so a great deal of her chicken came home to be utilized in other applications. (It was turned into fabulous chicken pot pie.) And she was very pleased with the cook on the asparagus, a vegetable that can go from perfectly al dente to completely ruined quite quickly.
We completed a delightful meal with an equally delightful limoncello and mascarpone cake that was sweet, light, airy, and packed with lemon flavor.
BLL Rotisserie Factory boasts a brick oven rotisserie and they apparently go through a lot of chicken. Besides the dishes we were served, BLL has a chicken pizza, a chicken stromboli, a chicken marsala, a chicken Caesar salad, chicken parmigiana, a couple of chicken subs, and tons more chicken offerings. Pollo dappertutto. But they also put out some darn fine classic Italian fare. There's a nice variety of traditional house-made sauces available with a choice of pastas. We saw another diner with a lobster and shrimp ravioli in vodka sauce in which the shrimp were as big as prawns. My wife's next meal, for sure. And the cannelloni looked pretty good to me.
The beverage selection is nice and includes some serviceable wines and domestic and Italian beers, as well as San Pellegrino water and the usual tea and soft drinks.
The prices aren't bad. Some of the seafood specialties clock in at $17.50, but they are the most expensive items on the menu. Antipasti are all in the $5 to $8.25 range and most of the entrees are $10 to $12. Pizza is downright cheap, with a 16” pie going for $11.75.
The restaurant is family owned and family friendly. Owner Simone and his daughter are on hand to mingle with diners and to keep everybody happy and satisfied. Although I had to criticize Willie's Italian, I could not overrate his skills as a server. He was personable, knowledgeable, efficient and attentive without being intrusive. A rare find. No wonder he's been there so long.
BLL Rotisserie Factory is located at 380 Knollwood Street, Suite A, just a stone's throw from the Thruway Shopping Center. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 9:30 pm, parking is adequate, reservations are not required, dress is casual, and families and groups are welcome. Call them at (336) 725-7071 or find them on the web at www.rotisseriefactory.com. They're also on Facebook.
So, a nice Italian restaurant run by a nice Italian family with not a trace of Italian in the name – who'd have thought? Not me. But now that I know better, I'll be making BLL Rotisserie a regular stop.