by Amy Daniels
If you haven’t experienced Greenville’s new Sicilian restaurant, Cucina LaMantia, stop now and make a reservation (252.242.2525) You won’t regret it. Owners Charlie and Lauren LaMantia came to Greenville in July 2018 from New Jersey. WHY? Blame it on NJ and thank NJ at the same time. A friend of Charlie’s met his wife, born and raised in Greenville, and always raved about the people, weather, and cost of living in North Carolina. With a dream of opening a restaurant Charlie and Lauren made a few trips to Greenville in early 2018 and decided to take the plunge.
“The adjustment from New Jersey to Greenville was comfortable and welcoming,” Lauren says, “The community embraced us. We made new friends quickly. The kids even flourished in their new schools. Charlie and I look forward to establishing roots here.”
Executive Chef Charlie has been in the restaurant business for over 25 years, beginning at the age of 14. His first experience in the culinary arts through his father and family. He continued to hone his craft in an educational setting at SUNY-Cobleskill.
The dream became a reality for Charlie and Lauren in December 2018 when, after months of planning, renovating, and preparation, Cucina LaMantia opened its doors. The unique restaurant concept caught the immediate attention of locals, from families to foodies. From making reservations to savoring dessert, Cucina LaMantia is an experience in anticipation and curiosity. There are many reasons to love Cucina LaMantia, but here are five to pique your curiosity enough to make those reservations.
Chef Charlie’s Famous Bruschetta is delicious and unique. So delicious, in fact, that it has reformed my previous bruschetta avoidance. I’ve never been a fan of raw tomatoes, but one bite of Chef Charlie’s delightful creation had me loading up my plate and trying to recreate the experience at home (I’m pretty sure there are some secret ingredients that I’m close to figuring out, but Chef Charlie won’t confirm or reveal his secret!).
Seriously—it’s perfect. The bread is toasted but still soft, and has a surprising sweet component. The tomato topping is an expertly balanced mix of acidic and savory with all of the right proportions of garlic and basil.
Arriving at the restaurant is all it takes to become part of a big Italian family. Lauren greets you at the door and knows everyone’s name well before the meal is finished. The layout of the dining room changes according to the night’s reservations, so you can gather your entire family for a relaxing evening of delicious food or enjoy a special diner with your significant other.
Everything is served “family style,” rather than being individually plated. This works marvelously because it allows you to taste a variety of dishes and dish yourself a little extra of those which you find the most appealing. From start to finish, the entire experience is the embodiment of the Cucina LaMantia catchphrase, “Welcome to our family.” Scanning the photo-filled wall that runs the length of the restaurant lets you see who else has joined the family, too.
Make no mistake—Sicily is a region of Italy, and therefore Sicilian food IS Italian, but the dishes served at Cucina LaMantia are not the dishes found on the menus at most Italian restaurants in the U.S. Chef Charlie prepares authentic cuisine based on recipes from the family’s roots in San Giuseppe Jato (outside Palermo, Sicily), travel, and his own culinary creativity. The ever-changing menu features local, seasonal ingredients and includes Sicilian staples, classic street food, and traditional preparation.
“What’s important to us is serving simple dishes, full of flavor incorporating the family’s roots, that are still relate-able and delicious,” explains Lauren.
Some dishes may feel familiar when presented, but the freshness of the ingredients used, and the straight-out-of-Sicily preparation techniques render an completely different experience. The decadence of a creamy pesto gnocchi and the flavor and juiciness of a freshly made meatball do not go unnoticed. From the antipasti course, to the pasta, to the meats, to the dessert, Chef Charlie is not afraid to bring authenticity to the table.
Reserving a table at Cucina LaMantia should be on you bucket list for the unique experience, if for no other reason. A restaurant with no menu raises more than a few eyebrows, but the experience is unlike any other. There is food on the table when you arrive and in authentic Italian style, it just keeps coming! Over the course of two to three hours, the kitchen produces 14 amazing and diverse courses. Instead of dinner being part of you plans for the evening, it becomes THE plan for evening and enables you to slow down and actually enjoy your food.
Dining at Cucina LaMantia feels different from every other restaurant experience I’ve had. There is nothing like it anywhere remotely local. You aren’t expected to rush through your food to vacate the table. Lauren spends time talking with the members of each and every table throughout the course of the meal. Chef Charlie makes accommodations for dietary restrictions if you let them know ahead of time.
Expand Your Palette and Your Mind
Unless you are already well versed in Sicilian cuisine, you are going to be presented with something that you’ve never tried before (seriously—try the panelle; I’ve been craving it lately). While you dine, you will also be educated on traditional Sicilian ingredients and correct pronunciation (for example, it’s broo-SKE-tah, not broo-she-tah). Each table has a small placard with information about a traditional Sicilian ingredient. If you’re dining with a group of friends, it can be a fun way to try to discover what the upcoming courses are.
Have you made your reservations yet? Gather some friends, grab a couple bottles of wine (Cucina LaMantia is BYOB with no corking fee) and enjoy an evening filled with good food and good conversation. Oh, and to save you from having to ask, it’s pronounced koo-CHEE-na la-mon-TEE-ah.
Cucina LaMantia is located at 3700 S Memorial Drive in Greenville. To make reservations, call 252.242.2525 or visit cucinalamantia.com. Seating is at 6pm from Wednesday through Saturday. Bring your own bottle. Reservation only. Cash only. Cucina LaMantia is also available for private parties and special events.