When Jerry Simonetti was a young boy, his grandmother told him, “when you grow up, you’re going to be a chef.” She had plenty of evidence to back up her theory: as a child, Jerry spent hours in the kitchen watching her prepare traditional Italian dishes from scratch. Sure enough, after graduating from college he embarked on a 20-year career as a chef and restaurateur that culminated in the opening of his own restaurant—Simonetti’s.
To create Simonetti’s menu of pizza and pasta, Jerry relies on generations of family recipes and simple, fresh ingredients. Specialty pizzas exemplify the eatery’s focus on simplicity: most contain three toppings or fewer including fresh basil, ricotta cheese, and cured meats. In keeping with a true Italian dining experience, Simonetti’s carries a selection of affordable wines, and waiters deliver all dishes via gondola.
Johnny B’s friendly chefs welcome families to relax over a hand-tossed pie, baked wings, and hoagies in a festive, colorful dining room. Families sharing dinner glance over the menu to pick an appetizer such as baked salt-and-pepper wings or garlic-butter pretzel drops as addictive as stealing candy from babies. For pizza, the classic Big Toad is crowded with savory bacon, beef, and ham balanced with crunches of green pepper and black olive. An alternative to traditional mozzarella and tomato sauce, the Frozen Pond pie spreads a base of oil and garlic under tomatoes, onions, and three cheeses to bake a pie as cheesy as an Elvis impersonator raised on a dairy farm. A team of tasty wraps, hoagies, and pockets tempts diners to stray from the pizza list in favor of a buffalo-chicken wrap seasoned with ranch, Bulliard’s hot sauce, and gooey provolone or a Johnny’s club hoagie accepting membership from ham, cheese, turkey, and bacon, if it gets its act together. If diners drop in between Monday and Wednesday, they can split delicious desserts such as the house-favorite cinnamon drops.
New York-style thin-crust pizza headlines the menu at Market Street Pizza. Each disc is made to order in classic and creative combinations, such as the cheeseburger pie topped with dill-pickle chips and mustard or the super chicken pizza, which arrives dressed with mushrooms, bacon, provolone, and a bulletproof cape. Pizza toppings also take cover in calzones stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and subs clench fillings inside white or wheat hoagie rolls.
According to Villa Antonio's chef, there are only two secret ingredients in romantic fine dining: abundance and flavor. The menu strikes a careful balance between the two, from the New Zealand lamb chops crowned with melted gorgonzola to the mandarin-orange pesto in the grilled diver scallops to the dessert trolley's pilings of cannoli, tiramisu, and italian cheesecake.
That abundance extends to the spirit of the staff—who upholds the restaurant's motto, "Where you are never a stranger twice"—as well as the decor. At the Ballantyne location, a stone rotunda fitted with hand-blown glass looms over the dining area, while a fountain casts shimmers of colored light across the outdoor patio. At the South Boulevard location, eyes are drawn to the bar area via the black-and-gold flower pattern that dominates the floor. Additional audio-visual flavor can be found on Friday and Saturday nights, when live music helps conjure a romantic atmosphere, much like the sound of Barry White cackling like a witch.
Revolution Pizza & Ale House keeps its menu local by relying on fresh local pork and hand-selected produce, as well as stocking North Carolina craft beers. Revolution affirms its commitment to fresh food through the Italian phrase "Produzione Propria"—meaning "made in-house"—on its logo, along with an image of Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest. All dishes are made from scratch on the premises, from the freshly baked pizza dough to the Mediterranean-style dishes such as eastern BBQ pork sandwiches, mushroom fettuccine, and housemade fresh mozzarella and focaccia bread. New beers are added to the mix weekly, with choices such as Big Boss Monkey Bizz-Ness, a Belgian-style ale from Raleigh that packs a Donkey Kong-sized punch with its 9% ABV and propensity to leave guests talking about their secret banana hoards.
The newly renovated Randy Loren's Dolce Vita Ristorante infuses classic Italian dishes with a love of music that permeates the classic atmosphere. As diners enjoy plates of lightly breaded veal and parmesan-encrusted tilapia, on Fridays and Saturdays performers take to the dining room’s elevated stage to coax melodies from a white grand piano sitting under a disco ball and colorful lights. In addition, trimming decorated like piano keys accentuates the wooden bar, whose array of liquor and wine bottles would produce its own grand symphony if it were ever hit with a bunch of tiny pebbles.