A Hidden Gem Worth Finding
Hidden away in a shopping center in Mt. Pleasant, SC is a gem of an Italian restaurant: Amalfi's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria.
When I say “hidden away,” I mean it. Even with electronic guidance, when the GPS announces “the destination is on your right,” you look and go, “Okay. Where?” Then you spend several minutes negotiating the maze of Belle Hall Shopping Center's shops before you spot the Amalfi's sign over the door of a small space in the back.
Unlike the chain places with Italian-sounding names, Amalfi's is an Italian restaurant actually owned and operated by Italians. One of my standard gambits in determining the “Italian-ness” of an Italian restaurant is to simply greet the host or hostess in Italian or to speak Italian when requesting a table. “Una tavola per due, per favore.” If that gets a blank stare or a nervous smile, I start to look around to make sure I haven't stumbled into an Olive Garden. Well, I did get the nervous smile from the young man at Amalfi's door; a smile that was repeated by the waitress when I greeted her with “buona sera.” But word must have spread that there was an old guy in the place speaking Italian because soon several Italian speakers came out to chat with me and I was quite happy and satisfied with the eatery's authenticity.
One of the Italian speakers was owner Davide Mazzola, who originally opened Amalfi's in downtown Charleston in 2008, but moved to the current spot in Mt. Pleasant in 2011 after a kitchen fire damaged the original location. (There is now a second Amalfi's in James Island, located there to service the original Charleston customer base.) Davide is from Napoli, where his family operates two restaurants. He began his American journey in North Carolina working for his uncle in Greensboro before launching his first Amalfi's in Elkin and following it with one in Wilkesboro. Because he loves being near the ocean, his next choice for expansion was the Charleston area.
In the traditional Italian manner, Amalfi's prides itself on using only the finest ingredients and freshest products available and everything from the sauces to the breads and doughs are fatta in casa, or home made, according to family recipes.
Stepping through the door at Amalfi's transports you to an Italian trattoria. There's nothing fancy, glitzy, or trendy here. In fact, it's a little stark. Lots of wood and warm golden umber with a few splashes of Italian art and bric-a-brac on the walls. There's an immediate intimate vibe and homey feel to the small space, especially to the upstairs area where our party of three was seated on a beautiful mid-April evening.
In truth, this was our second visit to Amalfi's, but writing about our wonderful initial experience was set aside due to a death in my wife's family that occurred around the time of the first visit. So when we found ourselves back in town on business – this time in the company of a coworker with an appreciation for good food – a return to Amalfi's was a foregone conclusion.
Everything was as we remembered it from our first outing. The atmosphere was pleasant and relaxing, the service was friendly and attentive, and the food was semplicemente squisito. (“Simply exquisite,” in case you couldn't figure that one out.)
The deliciously fresh homemade bread arrived first, accompanied by a delectable dipping sauce of oil, herbs, spices, and tangy balsamico. Okay, so it's not traditionally Italian to serve bread before a meal (bread should be served as an accompaniment to the meal, not as a pre-meal course of its own), but it's what Americans have come to expect and I never complain about good bread, regardless of when it's served.
There were several intriguing appetizers on the menu, ranging from an antipasto of thin sliced prosciutto, soppressata, mozzarella di bufula, asiago cheese, kalamata olives, and marinated vegetables to a house specialty called “zucchini alla scapece,” described as being an original from Naopli consisting of fresh sliced zucchini, grilled and topped with balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and shaved asiago. There were also offerings of arancini, bruschetta, and calamari. We settled on a simple caprese and were not disappointed.
Soups and salads were well represented. My wife chose a thick, rich, flavorful homemade tomato bisque to accompany her entree.
Our guest was agog at the entree choices, which included selections from categories including “Traditional Italian,” “Pollo,” “Vitello,” “Melanzana,” and “Sapori di Mare” as well as “Specialty Entrees,” pizza in both Neapolitan and Sicilian styles, calzone and stromboli, subs, and a children's menu. With all that from which to choose, she ordered baked ziti and a generous garden salad. The “ziti,” which was actually penne, was served in a hearty ricotta and tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella and baked to golden perfection. My wife's choice of entree also came from the “traditional” column; she had perfectly tender ravioli stuffed with a savory meat filling and served in Amalfi's signature homemade tomato sauce. Neither lady was able to finish the typical “Italian restaurant” portions, but they made serviceable dents and pronounced both dishes to be delightful.
Having had pasta on my previous visit, I opted for pizza this time, choosing a simple Neapolitan-style cheese pie. Although the crust was a little more American that true Neapolitan, the overall product was delicious and satisfying and the two slices that made it back to the hotel didn't last long once the midnight munchies struck.
Even with tiramisu and my personal favorite, cannoli, on the menu, dessert was out of the question. They'd have had to wheel us down the stairs and out the door on a hand-truck. Maybe next time.
And there will be a next time.
The Mount Pleasant location of Amalfi's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria is in the Belle Hall Shopping Center at 664 Long Point Road. They are open from 11 am to 10 pm Monday through Thursday, from 11 am to 11 pm Friday and Saturday, and from 11 am until 9:30 pm on Sunday. Dress is casual, reservations are not required, and families are welcome. Ample parking is available. Call them at (843) 793-4265 or find them on the web at www.amalfisofmountpleasant.com. Or you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.