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.
Rodolfo and Luisa Amadio are no strangers to the Charlotte restaurant scene. Following the success of Luisa?s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Dolce Ristorante Italiano, the pair decided to bring their passion for italian cuisine to Rudy's Italian Restaurant & Bar. Inside, honey-hued walls bask in the sunlight streaming through enormous picture windows. A tall semicircle platform is the dining room's centerpiece, displaying Rudy's inventory of more than 40 wine bottles, 35 of which are available by the glass. Chefs craft Italian starters for diners to pair with favorite varietals, creating hearty pasta dishes as well as seafood and veal in cognac and madeira-wine sauces. While chipping away at scoops of house-made gelato, diners can ask servers about reserving space on the outdoor patio for private parties or reserving space in the walk-in refrigerator for games of freeze tag.
When one steps inside, Geisha House "can feel like another planet," says the Los Angeles Times. A self-described "surreal, high-class brothel," Geisha House pays homage to Japan's late-night history and adds modern twists such as backlit neon panels in sultry shades of red and pink. A curved mezzanine grants a bird's-eye view of candlelit tables crowned with specialty rolls full of burdock root, tempura flakes, torched lobster, and other adventurous ingredients. Chatter emanates from a 50-foot sake bar serving the Japanese rice liquor straight or poured into specialty cocktails, sips of which flank bites of carpaccio, mongolian lamb chops, and udon noodles in fragrant broths. A lively dance floor invites diners to remember the simple joy of motion and lets method actors cast as sprinklers fit in.