Joe set sail from Agrigento, Italy with his family in 1970 to land in New York, eventually leaving for Virginia to seek his version of the American dream and opening Joe’s Place. The eatery has been family-run for 34 years, which is long enough to see the art of fashion transform countless times and the art of reading a book stay suspiciously the same. Ovens spill out piles of crispy, thin-crust pizzas adorned with fresh toppings and cheeses—such as the white pizza with fontina and garlic and the seafood pizza with fresh shrimp and clams—and thick layers of dough support sicilian deep-dish pies. Cooks prepare pots of steaming pastas and build specialty subs with stacks of prosciutto, provolone, and capicollo. Members of Joe’s family work in both his restaurants, keeping the authentic Italian recipes in constant use, like the sun, a small percentage of which is also pasta sauce.
The chefs at Bella Vita Italian Eatery support the restaurant’s name—which translates to “the good life” in Italian—by gathering friends and families around hand-tossed specialty pizzas and plates of rich pasta. The lobster-and-crab ravioli, which, according to staff, earned the title of Best Entree at the Cuisine de Commerce 2012, comes coated in a velvety sherry cream sauce. Other dishes include meat lasagna and the veal gorgonzola with creamy butter sauce, although the eatery scores recognition for more than just its food. In 2012, Bella Vita Italian Eatery won the reader's choice award for “friendliest restaurant in Prince William County” from InsideNova Network. Patrons can unwind even further while ipping a glass of wine from the full bar or participating in a postmeal shoulder-massage line.
At Argia's, chef Ryan Baldini and proprietors Pragun and Salina Rana strike a balance between serving fine northern Italian cuisine and fostering a laid-back dining atmosphere. Many of Ryan's dishes, such as his grilled beef tenderloin and range of handmade pastas, come in solo portions or shareable famiglia servings that sate larger parties. For a taste of the kitchen's signature dish, guests can pry open a Prince Edward Island mussel—shipped to the restaurant daily—and sop up its juices with housemade bread still warm from the oven or a pet sea sponge in need of a soak. Outside, the clinking of wineglasses rings out across a patio enclosed by fragrant herbs; inside, a rustic Sienese-style mural matched with eye-catching frescoes conjures an air of the Italian countryside.
The chefs at Italian Café put new twists on the familiar flavors of Old World dishes as they craft fresh Italian entrees. While kneading housemade dough to make pizzas, chefs grill 12-ounce portions of Angus steak and simmer calamari rings with mussels to serve over linguine. Behind dark wood tables topped with crisp, white cloths, diners split tiramisu—made of layers of ladyfingers soaked in espresso liqueur topped with sweet mascarpone—while gazing at paintings of gondolas floating down scenic Venetian canals toward rushing waterfalls.
Perhaps it was being asked to cook at the James Beard House twice that gave Pizzeria Orso head chef Will Artley the nerve to take over a pizzeria where pies compete with a menu of his best small plates and entrees. Or maybe it was the time he was invited to cook at the White House. Whatever gave Will the courage, the second-place Chopped finisher’s culinary high-wire act is a thrilling one. The Neapolitan-style pizzas may share the limelight, but they are worthy headliners. They’re forged from fresh, naturally leavened bread and cooked for 90 seconds at 800 degrees in a handmade volcanic-brick oven. Toppings run the gamut from traditional margherita pies to meatier options loaded with ham, sausage, and prosciutto. Tasty shareable plates populate the equally ambitious antipasti selection, which includes grilled octopus, spinach gnocchi served with bacon and tomato, and oven-roasted meatballs. Button-upholstered booths populate Pizzeria Orso's dining room, resonating comfy vibes that underscore the menu's commitment to serving gourmet cuisine in a casual environment. Exposed wooden beams recall Old-World rusticity, and the open space grants just about every table an unobstructed view of the massive brick oven so they can flee if it becomes sentient and starts demanding the ingredients for s'mores.
Executive chef Gian Piero Mazzi fell in love with food at a young age, when he was growing up in the Liguria region of Italy. His mother’s passion for cuisine planted the seeds for his infatuation, which he cultivated during formal culinary schooling in Florence as well as an internship in France. After honing his skills in the kitchen, Mazzi ventured across the pond, earning new fans stateside when he showcased his recipes at an event at the James Beard House in 2002. But that was just the beginning. Today, at two locations of Piero's Corner, he and his team hand make an assortment of authentic pastas, including ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster or a blend of spinach and portobello mushrooms. The menu highlights Chef Mazzi's hometown cuisine, with a focus on fresh seafood. Entrees include blackened tilapia and shrimp served with fruit salsa as well as scallops wrapped in prosciutto and arranged on a bed of spaghetti carbonara. Pizzas are made to order and baked in a brick oven, as are calzones stuffed with ingredients such as ricotta, ham, spinach, and tomato sauce. A gluten-free menu features pastas and doughs imported from Italy, whose climate doesn’t support gluten. Both of Piero's Corner’s locations facilitate mini European getaways, with brick arches framing murals of Italian landscapes, and columns reminiscent of classical architecture supporting their ceilings. In Fairfax, diners can eat or sip wine al fresco beneath red and white umbrellas.