IN THE PRESS
A for Antonia's
"We mostly love cooking together in our own kitchen, but that's not to say we haven't had many a fine meal in Durham and surroundings! We lately have tried Antonia's in Hillsborough and had some very nice meals. The atmosphere is low-key, and it's not noisy so it's great with friends for conversation. The food - and we have always had a fish of some variety - has been well prepared, and the prices are very reasonable."
- Mary Liebhold, president and founder of The Kitchen Specialist Inc.
From a recent article in Taste magazine (presented by Durham and Chapel Hill Magazines), titled "Where do Foodies Eat?"
Check out this write-up in Chapel Hill magazine from their 5th Annual Foodie Issue. Titled “How Sweet It Is”, the article details five must-try desserts for fall in the Triangle area. We’re honored to announce that our Nutella Crème Brulee made the list!
BEST IN CLASS: ITALIAN CUISINE
Antonia's was recently named Best in Class for Italian cuisine by the NC News and Observer! Check out the Food section of the News and Observer website for the "Triangle's best restaurants you need to taste in 2014." Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/01/30/3577164/2014-best-restaurants-in-the-triangle.html#storylink=cpy
TRIPADVISOR 2014 CERTIFICATE OF EXCELLENCE
We are delighted to announce that TripAdvisor has awarded Antonia's with a 2014 Certificate of Excellence. This prestigious award recognizes businesses that consistently earn top ratings from TripAdvisor travelers. Thank you to everyone who posted feedback! Without your opinions and insight we'd have never progressed to where we are today!
Here's a lovely write up about Hillsborough from the latest issue of the Wrightsville Beach Magazine. Titled "Under the Hillsborough Sun", the article details our town's dining scene with a creative farm-to-table meal. Antonia's submitted two of our most popular dishes, the Grilled Vegetable Platter and the Spaghetti with Shrimp, to help create an eclectic menu, representing the town's finest dining options. Check us and the other participants out by following the link below or picking up a copy of the May 2014 issue.
Exciting news! We've been nominated for this year’s BEST OF CHAPEL HILL awards. Chapel Hill Magazine's annual poll is back and the voting is now open to the public. It will end April 18th so be sure to spread the word. Show your support for Antonia's and vote! Click here to cast your ballot: http://bit.ly/1fG0AZ1
Antonia's has been selected for Chapelboro's first 'Best Of' Bracket! This competition will allow the people of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and the rest of Orange County to vote for their favorite local restaurant, from fine dining to fast food. The contest will be promoted through Chapelboro.com and WCHL over six rounds from Thursday, January 23rd through Thursday, March 6th. The polls open today, so please show your support by voting for us at http://chapelboro.com/lifestyle/food-dining/best-bracket-restaurants/
ANTONIA'S IN HILLSBOROUGH IS A REMARKABLE ITALIAN EATERY
-Elizabeth Shestak, Indy Weekly
When I went to Tuscany on my honeymoon, I could not resist gnocchi. So when I ventured to Antonia's in Hillsborough, I looked forward to ordering it. Since I was told the pasta is made fresh, I guessed the potato dumplings would be as well, and there's nothing quite like freshly made Italian starchy goodness.
Alas, gnocchi was not on the menu. I learned from Claudia Salvadore, one of Antonia's three owners, that it usually runs as a special. She wandered the tables of the restaurant, which was packed even on a weeknight, gently inquiring about the food, the drink, the evening, her Italian accent only lending to the authenticity of the meal.
So many Italian restaurants fail by not knowing when to stop—stop ladling the gravy, crushing the garlic, pouring the cream. But Antonia's honors the practices of the old country, treading lightly where many Americanized versions stomp. The menu might not have taken many risks, but what it did it did well, using local and seasonal ingredients, the standard practice in Italy.
Antonia's opened in March 2011 at the corner of King and Churton streets in the former Tupelo's space, the central intersection of downtown Hillsborough. As Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and part-time Hillsborough resident, has written on her blog, it is her "neighborhood ristorante." There is live music some nights, and if you dine out frequently enough with people you see regularly, you might not mind the volume. Otherwise, dine outdoors, al fresco.
Pasta was the star of the evening, for there is no better way to gauge the quality of an Italian restaurant than how it serves a dish as simple as flour and egg topped with sauce. Though many seafood dishes looked appetizing, particularly the swordfish, I could not bring myself to stray from the comforts of fettuccine and tortelloni—and narrowing it down to these seemed a sacrifice.
A note on the word fettuccine. When someone Italian says this word, it sounds like the way the noodle should taste and feel in your mouth: soft yet firm. The thicker, flat noodle makes for a heartier bite, though it remains tender.
The fettuccine al ragú and the fettuccine alla Antonia (both $13.50, with half portions available for half the price plus $2) did not disappoint. The ragú tasted suspiciously like a bolognese, bearing a richness that went beyond a traditional meat sauce. The Antonia iteration, the restaurant's signature dish, came with a cream sauce plus peas, mushrooms and parmesan. It was well balanced, also rich but not overly so, as many cream sauces can be. It seemed as smart a choice on a warm summer night as would a lighter, olive oil-based sauce.
In lieu of the gnocchi, I ordered tortelloni alla Contadina ($16.50) off the daily dinner menu. It came with Italian smoked pancetta, button and shitake mushrooms, garlic and parmeggiano Reggiano. Cheesey, bacony goodness was met with every bite, and again it was not too heavy. Though I wish it had a bit more sauce, it was entirely satisfying.
Before you think I ate nothing but pasta, let me backtrack to the appetizers. In the spirit of summer, what were essentially two antipasto platters—the antipasto misto ($10.75) and the verdure alla griglia con mozzarella ($9.75)—seemed the best options, because aside from pasta, an assortment of meats, cheeses and roasted and pickled veggies is another way to gauge the merit of an Italian eatery.
The vegetables were not overly marinated, the asparagus thin and the eggplant supple. The meats were perfectly fatty, the cheese intense and rich. However, there was only one small, single roasted tomato between the two platters. Considering that at Antonia's the mozzarella is made in-house, this was nothing short of a tragedy. The mozzarella, I am sure, considered this a grave injustice. I reluctantly shared the solo tomato with my companion.
A lone criticism: The server, though polite, should have been better informed about the food. When asked what cheeses were included in the antipasto, she was unable to say with certainty which was which, and many of them, though delicious, looked alike.
As for dessert, I was pleased to see tiramisu on the menu. Italians are not known for their desserts, and this is among the richest the country has to offer. Often the lady fingers are overly soaked in espresso, making for a cold and soggy mouthful, but here the dessert was artfully crafted with the right amount of moisture, allowing the indulgence of the marscapone cream topped with cocoa to really shine. The panna cotta was pleasant but unremarkable.
Luckily, the food at Antonia's was not nearly as complicated as the history of the restaurant. When Claudia acknowledged there were three owners in cahoots, that there had been an Antonia's in another state a long time ago, she shook her head and smiled, more for herself than for me. The 30-plus years of experience in the food business shows. You can taste it.
A BOUNTY OF DELICIOUSNESS
Antonia's begins to cast its spell before you even set foot inside the place. Poppy-red umbrellas in front of the restaurant beckon as you approach, inviting you to step from the streets of the pre-Revolutionary era town of Hillsborough, where Antonia's opened in March, and into a European sidewalk café.
Indoors, dining room manager Claudia Salvadore's urbane, softly accented greeting keeps the magic alive. Behind her, a well-stocked bar divides the space into two narrow, cozy rooms framed in vintage molded tin ceilings, time-burnished hardwood floors and windows hung with curtains in muted shades of olive, rust and cream. Walls hung with an eclectic collection of art ranging from Miro print to Romantic landscape reinforce a mood that is at once refined and relaxed.
Though the restaurant has only been open for five months, it feels as if it's been around for decades - and in a way, it has. Salvadore helped run a previous incarnation of Antonia's with childhood friend Antonia Berto and Berto's husband, Phillip Smith in Key West for 24 years before selling it in 2002. Joining the trio in the new venture is Naomi Lundahl, whom they had met when she was co-owner of another Key West restaurant.
Berto and Smith team up in the kitchen to offer an enticing mix of traditional and contemporary fare with a Northern Italian accent and an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients. The starter offering is brief but varied, with temptations including an antipasto misto of salumi and local artisanal cheeses, a pairing of prosciutto with the current crop of cantaloupe and honeydew melon, and mushroom caps sautéed in a voluptuous Marsala cream sauce.
Decisions don't get any easier when it comes to entrees. Do you go for the pan-seared Gulf snapper with watercress, Belgian endive, radicchio, arugula and artichokes, splashed with white wine and oil infused with roasted olives and lemon? Or scaloppine of pork loin stuffed with wild mushrooms and creamy caciotta cheese, napped with a pancetta-sage butter sauce?
Further complicating matters are the pastas, which range from fettuccine, mushrooms and peas in a velvety cream sauce to penne with seasonal vegetables to spaghetti with shrimp in a vibrant tomato sauce punctuated with garlic and red pepper. Happily, pastas are available in half portions, allowing you to have your pasta, so to speak, and eat your entree too.
Unless you opt for the lasagne bolognese, that is, in which case you'll want to order the full portion and forgo the entree. It's that good. Unlike the familiar Southern Italian version of the dish, Antonia's is the Emilia-Romagna classic layering of béchamel, rich bolognese ragu and homemade pasta so tender that it's impossible to describe without resorting to the melts-in-your-mouth cliché.
Homemade pastas are Antonia Berto's specialty, it turns out, and you'll invariably find at least one among the list of nightly specials. Linguine alla spiaggia was a recent charmer, featuring shrimp, crab and tomato entwined in a skein of delicate noodles tossed in a light sherry cream sauce.
From local sources
But pasta is hardly the only attraction on the specials list, where Berto and Smith frequently venture outside the Italian repertoire to showcase local flavors. The catch of the day might be pan-seared North Carolina flounder, catfish or grouper, with your choice of sauce judiciously applied so as not to upstage the fish. That even goes for the anchovy cream sauce, a model of restraint and balance.
A bounty of crabs is transformed into crab cakes, ample disks of jumbo lumps held together by little more than their lacy crusts. Land and sea harvests are united on crunchy crostini, where snapper, mussels, shrimp, heirloom tomatoes and cannellini beans cast a spell that compels you to eat every bite.
Nor does the charm wear off when it comes time for dessert. Torta di amaretto e cocco is a magic incantation that conjures up almonds and toasted coconut in a light-as-a-cloud cream cake. Nutella crème brûlée, a sometime special, bewitches. And it should come as no surprise, given the owners' backgrounds, that key lime pie transports you instantaneously to Key West.
NC WEEKEND: BOB GARNER ENJOYS A SUNDAY BRUNCH
Follow the link to view Garner enjoying his time at Antonia's: http://video.pbs.org/video/2364995203/
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
In January of 2012, we were nominated in the “best new restaurant” category of Greg Cox’s Best Restaurants of the Triangle. See the complete list here.
REVIEW IN CHAPEL HILL MAGAZINE'S 2012 FOODIE ISSUE
Nothing is more Italian than Rome, and no food more Roman than pasta. Named after its Roman-born chef, Antonia Berto Smith, this restaurant offers pastas that are both extraordinary and authentic. In Italy, a small plate is often eaten as a first course at both lunch and dinner, preceded by a salad or light antipasto, so variety is welcome. Whether tossed with a meaty Bolognese, earthy wild mushrooms or pancetta, or as in this classic, Spaghetti ai Gameri, succulent shrimp and fresh tomatoes, the pasta itself is cooked Roman style – very al dente, meaning pleasingly on the firm side. In typical Italian fashion, ingredients are as local as possible, and specials – which include salads, meat, fish and chicken as well as pastas – rotate with the seasons.