Friday Feature: Trattoria Antica Brings Tavern-Style Italian To WaxhawApril 6, 2013 Mick
Our readers know we tend to focus on restaurants within the limits of Charlotte proper here at Restaurant Traffic. But when we find a winner in one of the outlying areas around Mecklenburg County we don’t hesitate to share with the RT faithful. Trattoria Antica off Highway 16 (Providence Road) in Waxhaw is one such winner and well worth the drive time and gas money.
I first visited Trattoria Antica back in October and regretted I didn’t have our camera the first go round to document the experience. This Saturday, I returned for a second helping and they didn’t disappoint. ¬†I hope this glimpse into our experience at Conte Restaurant Group’s tavern-style Italian eatery gives you an accurate portrayal of one of Waxhaw’s best restaurants.
About fifteen minutes over the Union County line, Trattoria Antica presents itself as an unassuming corner spot in a small commercial development located around a stretch of residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of downtown Waxhaw. From the outside you can’t tell much except that parking lot is full on a Saturday night when all the neighboring businesses are closed. Full parkings lots in restaurants off the beaten path tend to be solid indicators of either successful restaurants or the only place in town. There is nothing glittery or pretentious about the signage and you’ve got a good chance of missing them if you aren’t familiar with the area.
We met two of our friends from college who live in Waxhaw and were glad we made a reservation for the four of us. At 7:30, the 15 to 20 tables were all occupied and only a few seats remained at the bar. The manager greeted us at the door and assured us our table would be ready momentarily. The interior gives off a bit of a rustic vibe with wine presses around the restaurant floor and polished copper crockery accenting the walls. Painted depictions of life in the Italian Piedmont and sunny coastal scenes from along the Mediterranean help warm the environment and set the stage for the amazing food. The bar is just the right size to accommodate the dining room and assist with the overflow capacity but small enough to discourage guests from coming in and boozing the night away. It may have a tavern-like environment but this is not the place you’ll find a group of regulars pounding beers all night while cozied up to the bar. I suspect this was intentional in the design of the restaurant and detracts nothing from the space or concept.
Since we visited once before, Lil’ Mama and I didn’t want to load up too heavily on appetizers. Each table receives a basket of crusty slices of bread served with warm cannelini beans in olive oil with some diced bell peppers. Combine the bread with an appetizer and you’re already on your way to a doggie bag or a nap before your entrees reach the table. So we opted for the bruschetta because it is just the right amount of food for four people to share without feeling overstuffed before the meal. After all, Trattorria Antica describes their cuisine as Italian comfort food and they aren’t kidding.
As is customary with bruschetta, Trattoria Antica serves their Bruschetta Trattoria on rounds of Italian bread topped with Roma tomatoes, shaved sheets of parmesan cheese, basil leaves wide as the bread, and a healthy splash of olive oil and garlic. I’ll stress this again later but let me just say,- the tomatoes, my Lord, the tomatoes. Fruit of the vine, kissed by the sun, and saut√©ed to buttery, savory perfection. Lil’ Mama prefers her tomatoes pureed and I gladly took all she had to give while she snapped a couple photos with her new camera¬†lens.
I¬†selected the seared striped bass special for my entree and nearly passed on the salad, but when I noticed the anchovies in the description of the Caesar I relented and ordered one. My lettuce arrived crunchy and fresh, liberally-tossed in a garlicky dressing that complimented the salty flavor of the marinated anchovy presented on a slice of parmesan. By the time my salad was gone and the appetizers were picked over, our entrees arrived. Our server did a good job pacing the meal so the courses¬†hit the table as the¬†empty plates departed.
My fish came out steaming with an expertly-seared crust trapping the juices inside a moist, flaky bass filet. Even with¬†a soak in the¬†aromatic saffron fennel broth the crust stayed crispy. The saut√©ed peppers and spinach made for a savory mix of textures and flavors when coupled with bites of fish dredged through the shallow ladleful of broth. I loved the mussels too and like a true sinful glutton, I wanted MORE than the four or five served with my meal. That special was unlike anything I’d ever tasted and I’d be sure to order it again.
Lil’ Mama ordered the Cavatelli Rustica which is hand-rolled pasta, spicy Italian sausage, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes in a red sauce with white wine and garlic. If you like Italian food, be sure to seek out a restaurant serving handmade pasta. You’ll never look at those boxes of dried pasta in your pantry the same way. It is firm to the tooth and filling, especially when combined with the fresh veggies and slices of sausage. I suspect many an Italian peasant looked forward to coming home out of the fields in the Piedmont knowing a bowl of Cavatelli Rustica awaited them. I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch and the only disappointment was not getting a full serving for myself.
Many times when we visit a restaurant and we start snapping photos, our server ignores the camera and goes about doing their job. This is perfectly fine with me because I’m not out looking for a free meal and I often get a better perspective on service and a restaurant’s delivery if they have no clue I write features for RT. Other times the server asks about the camera when they see us shuffling plates around trying to get a decent shot of the food. The team at Trattoria Antica politely asked about the camera and shortly after the kitchen sent a complimentary sampler of desserts which we appreciated. It was tough deciding whether I liked the Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, or Tortino Di Cioccolato most. I think in hind sight, even though I liked the liquor-soaked flavor of the tiramisu, my favorite was the Panna Cotta because it was this gelatinous gooey treat I tasted for the first time that night.
While Trattoria Antica might be a bit of a hike for food fans in Charlotte Proper, those who aren’t scared to invest some time getting out to a restaurant will find the distance worth the meal.
Have you been to Trattoria Antica? Let us know your thoughts about this Conte Restaurant Group concept in the comments section below.