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Piazza Italia

Posted by LHG 19 Nov 2009 24 Comments

Oh my goodness y’all, it has been ages since my last post, and for that I apologize. This whole full-time-employment thing is a real energy sucker (they don’t really warn you about that in your Art of the Harlem Renaissance seminar) and I’ve also been working on a few other writing projects, namely articles about Steampunk. Yes, I just outed myself. No, I do not feel any shame. Anyhow, I’ll be catching up over the next few weeks. I have many a joint to review because, people, I eat a lot.

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First up: Piazza Italia. I work in the Brightleaf area and am determined to eat my way through the complex. My friend AL, who has been harassing me to write this review for some time, and I hit up Piazza Italia for lunch a few weeks past. The space is quite lovely, perfect for medium-sized parties and events. The main room is themed in more of a central Italy Tuscan-Roman style, while a backroom holds the seafood themed section of the restaurant (called Piazza di Mare) and has a more Minoan look to the walls.

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Piazza Italia does pasta extremely well, and has some excellent moderately-priced lunch selections. For $9 you can choose a pasta shape of your choice, a sauce of your choice, and for an extra $3 a meat topping of your choice. AL chose linguini with basil pesto. The pasta itself was good, extremely fresh, and cooked perfectly al dente. The pesto was serviceable.

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I chose one of the lunch combos, eggplant parmigiana with a side of pasta. The menu lists the pasta side as spaghetti with pomodoro sauce, but I was able to swap the spaghetti for rigatoni (I dislike long, thin strands of pasta). I thought the eggplant was done quite well; it was not over-breaded and still tasted like eggplant. The pasta was, like the linguini, fresh and perfectly cooked, and I thought the pomodoro sauce tasted bright and summery.

Neither dish, I’m afraid to say, was jump out of my seat memorable. However, it was all simply-made and well prepared, which are often the marks of good Italian food. Not every meal needs to be mind-blowing. I have to admit that my favorite part about my meal was that they served the bread with a side of roasted garlic in the bulb rather than olive oil or butter. As you may now know I believe in eating as much garlic as possible, and so was more than pleased to slather garlic straight onto the bread. The garlic etc. was brought fairly quickly after we were seated, and the rest of our service was just as prompt. This was likely because the restaurant was near empty, a bit of a surprise, but then again it was early on a Tuesday. Piazza Italia also offers fresh pasta to go and a very tempting array of gelati, also featured at the nearby Amelia’s (the owners also run Chamas, the Brazilian steakhouse).

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Okay gentle readers, here’s the kicker: I had this post all written and ready to go, and thought I’d passed full judgment.  Then, I was invited to a five-course dinner for a woman’s professional group.  And, wow, Piazza Italia done full out is really spectacular.  I was with a group of people I did not know, so pictures were not taken, but here is the run-down:

Bread and garlic (garlic garlic garlic!)

Appetizer of Italian antipasti, a roasted eggplant and onion dish (delicious), grapes, sun-dried tomato with tapenade, and a lovely, simple, marinated chicken mini-panino.

Warm lobster salad with big, fresh chunks of lobster over spinach, and seedless cucumbers, dressed in an amazing lemon butter tarragon sauce. This was fantastic and memorable, though a bit over-dressed sauce-wise.

Fettucini alfredo, excellent pasta, not too heavy of an alfredo sauce (a positive).

Eggplant parmigiana.  Still awesome.

A beautiful dessert of gently lemon flavored vanilla gelato over a light cake, dressed with chocolate sauce and a sprig of rosemary.  Ever since I tried the rosemary softserve at Momofuku Milk Bar I’ve been a fan of rosemary in dessert.

Okay y’all.  Go to Piazza Italia for dinner.  Go all out.  Get a seafood salad.  This is the way to do it.  Lunch is serviceable, dinner was amazing, and I am so glad I got to eat this feast before publishing this post!

Piazza Italia

(919) 956-7360

905 West Main Street

Durham, NC

27701

http://www.piazzaitalia.us/

24 Comments »

  • RPP said:

    I’m glad to hear the food has improved. I was there in February and the food (pasta dish, can’t remember which specifically) was very mediocre. Everyone at the table agreed the dessert was inedible.

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    LHG replies on November 20th, 2009 at 12:22 pm:

    The gelato I had was very good, can’t speak on the rest of it. I agree that a lot of the food isn’t particularly memorable (see euphemisms like “serviceable”) but I thought that the lobster salad was really well done. Not every restaurant, alas, can knock the ball out of the park.

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  • Lenore said:

    Come on.. surely you’re brave enough to take food pics around people you don’t know! :)

    I’ve only eaten at Piazza Italia for dinner, but I’ve generally been pleased.

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  • Justin said:

    One of these days the Triangle will get a decent hole-in-the-wall Italian place. The closest we can come are mediocre places that think a plate of spaghetti is worth $15.

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    LHG replies on November 20th, 2009 at 12:23 pm:

    I agree we need a hole-in-the-wall Italian place. Future restaurant owners of Durham, take heed! Are there any such places in Raleigh/Cary? I can’t think of any in Chapel Hill…

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    Nando replies on November 24th, 2009 at 1:14 pm:

    I agree. Pasta is one of the cheapest ingredients in a kitchen and cooking it for 4 minutes in barely boiling water isn’t hard, either. To a restaurant, a fresh pasta dish with pomodoro (tomato) sauce costs less than $3 (even less if it’s not fresh pasta). Add a few dollars for fixed costs and the rest is pure profit.

    A hole in the wall, where the esthetics aren’t important and the wait staff is minimum, would be a great addition. There should be no reason to sell a pasta dish (with tomato sauce) for more than $7.95, add a dollar for other sauces such as Bolognese or pesto, and $3 if you want a whole chicken breast.

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  • MEZ said:

    I really liked Piazza Italia when I went also, especially the freshness of the noodles. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an inventive, finer dining Italian spot.

    As for the hole-in-the-walls, Raleigh does have one in City Market that my husband and I tried once, Ric’s Ristorante Italiano. I honestly don’t remember what we thought of it. I also have a friend who adores Pulcinella’s in Woodcroft. I went once, and the food was too heavy for me, but if thick, rich tomato is your thing, then you’d probably like it.

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  • hh876 said:

    The closest, hole-in-the-wall Italian place that I think is worth mentioning is Daniel’s on highway 55 in Apex. It’s wonderful and worth the drive!

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    YAR replies on November 23rd, 2009 at 9:42 pm:

    I remember hearing and reading about a place in Pittsboro that was supposed to have great pasta, but I never made it there. I think it was Our Neighborhood School & Pizzeria, and it was probably from this post on Delicious Durham that I read about it. Anyone been lately?

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  • Beth1 said:

    I went to Piazza Italia for lunch several months ago and admit I was not impressed. However, I’ve gone for dinner twice in the last 6 weeks and both times my meal was excellent and the service outstanding. The hazelnut gelato was yummy. My friends and I are going for dinner there tomorrow night to celebrate my birthday – I’m really looking forward to it.

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  • JS said:

    I don’t think people know what “hole in the wall” means. The recommendations above are all $10-15 for just the pasta entree. Should be something like $5-6 for a huge plate of orecchiette or cavatelli with sausage or meatball. Maybe I’m just spoiled with the plethora of dirt cheap Italian joints when I visit the folks – entree as noted above, couple pints of crappy beer (or cheap table wine), fried longhots, antipasto, lots of bread; $10 per person with tax and tip, followed by one hell of an afternoon nap. And the ambiance is pretty much the opposite of Olive Garden.

    We have holes in the wall here, just not any serving Italian food.

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    MEZ replies on November 22nd, 2009 at 10:29 pm:

    Point taken. I thought Pulcinella’s was cheaper but looking at the menu now, you’re right, it’s about $10 minimum an entree. The ambiance is hole-in-the-wall, though!

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    apathy replies on November 24th, 2009 at 11:35 am:

    I agree, I also don’t know when 9-12$ for lunch became cheep. I don’t think I would describe anything even remotely near brightleaf as a hole in the wall.

    I wish I could think of italian food that I’ve had in Durham or Raleigh that would be worth recommending, but nothing has been spectacular, or worth a revisit. Although it has inspired me to perfect the few italian dishes I can make myself, which is pretty awesome.

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  • mmmyummy said:

    Their squid ink linguine + wild mushroom marsala sauce = amazing.

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    TSQ75 replies on November 24th, 2009 at 9:27 am:

    holy crap that sounds yummy even at 9am

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  • jenn air grills said:

    Excellent pictures – soooo tasty looking.

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  • MoFood said:

    So, I’ll beg to disagree slightly with some of the most positive reviews here. I went here with a friend for dinner on 12/23. Ambiance is indeed nice. I did like the bread and cooked garlic. I also enjoyed my soup-of-the-day: some sort of tomato bisque.

    However, both my dinner partner and I were not impressed with our main dishes. I had a house specialty with napolitano sauce (didn’t see it on the menu online- I think it was tortellini?). My dinner partner had the ravioli ricotta. Both of us found our dinner dishes very bland. Pasta quality itself was good, but very little flavor in the sauce, which for me, is the most important part.

    I noticed the main review commented positively about the eggplant parmigiana- I thought about getting that, but it’s $13. That seems excessive when you can get good eggplant parmigiana for much less from less-fancy places like Durham Pizza and Pomodoro and others in the area.

    Between the comparatively high price and not-great sauces, I wasn’t impressed- would give it a 2.5 out of 5. But maybe it was a bad day?

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  • MelodyAnn said:

    Get the mussels here! (I used my empty shells as more functionable soup spoons for the broth). I have to admit I have only had one dish here because it’s so good I haven’t been able to branch out. Chicken breast stuffed with procuitto, smoked gouda and basil served over house made pasta cooked to perfection. Just do it.

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  • Outdoor Dining Spots | Carpe Durham said:

    [...] Piazza Italia, 905 West Main Street, Carpe Durham Review. [...]

  • http://jennairbbqgrills.com said:

    “Between the comparatively high price and not-great sauces, I wasn’t impressed- would give it a 2.5 out of 5. But maybe it was a bad day?”
    i second that…

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  • Jenn Air BBQ Grills said:

    great photos

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  • Jenn Air BBQ Grills said:

    really nice post that makes you hungry

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  • Jenn Air BBQ Grills said:

    i’ll go eat now

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  • Jenn Air stove said:

    I really liked Piazza Italia when I went also, especially the freshness of the noodles. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an inventive, finer dining Italian spot.

    [Reply]

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