The Eat Beat: Paolucci's opens in downtown Boone
By Frank Ruggiero
Downtown Boone bids benvenuto to Paolucci's Italian Bar & Grill.
Offering primo Italian fare at an affordable price, Paolucci's comes courtesy of Carl and Pat Paolucci, who also own a Ragazzi's Italian restaurant in Cary.
Paolucci's serves lunch, dinner and late-night from a menu crafted by Carl and son Carl Jr., a combination of classic Italian dishes and some more creative offerings.
The kitchen offers plenty of room for experimentation, and both Carls plan to offer daily specials that suit the season.
"Some are family recipes, similar to Ragazzi's, but with a twist - I didn't stay close to that standard," Carl said. "We brought a little bit of what we grew up with from the Bronx with my mother and grandmother, some of their techniques."
One example is the cherry pepper pork, inspired by an Arthur Avenue Restaurant in the Bronx and featuring a grilled pork chop topped with cherry pepper chutney and served over grilled vegetable risotto. Other recipes aren't so close to home, though, with Carl's grandparents hailing from Sicily, Naples and Palermo.
One of Pat's particular favorites is the vegetable lasagna. Though she's admittedly not a vegetarian, she said the dish - layered with pasta, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and ricotta, Romano and mozzarella cheeses - is simply delectable.
"There's probably nothing on the menu we don't like," Pat said.
That also applies to appetizers, of which Paolucci's offers many fresh options, from calamari to steamed mussels to mushrooms stuffed with Italian bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, vegetables and bacon. There are also standby favorites like fried mozzarella served in three sizable hand-breaded sticks and jumbo wings served in either buffalo, bourbon or spicy Italian sauces.
Paolucci's offers ample vegetarian fare, apart from the aforementioned lasagna, including pasta a la Roma - pan-seared Roma tomatoes with fresh chopped garlic and basil served over fettuccini - and roasted veggie pasta, a mix of roasted peppers, zucchini, squash, eggplant and carrot served over whole wheat pasta.
The chef's specialties, though, of which the Carls are particularly proud, include Carl Jr.'s flat-iron steak, served with a Marsala cream mushroom sauce and served over mashed potatoes with the vegetable of the day.
To beat the ordinary, Paolucci's grilled salmon comes encrusted in brown sugar and broiled, served with a vinegar slaw and grilled vegetable risotto.
As far as classics go, diners can choose from classic lasagna, baked manicotti, chicken or veal picatta, chicken or veal Marsala, several Parmesan dishes, cheese or beef tortellini and cheese ravioli with one's choice of sauce.
Another timeless favorite is pizza, and Paolucci's serves six gourmet varieties of 10-inch pies, ranging from classic margherita (basil, Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella over house marinara) to the Mediterranean (eggplant, red onion, olives, Roma tomatoes, feta cheese). There's also the Italian (Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni and banana peppers), a white pie and the veggie supreme, whose name is somewhat of an understatement, loaded with eggplant, green peppers, tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, spinach, black olives and mozzarella cheese.
Diners can build their own pasta dish, choosing from spaghetti, angel hair, linguini, fettuccini and whole wheat spaghetti, served under meatballs and marinara, Bolognese (simmered tomato sauce with ground beef and red wine) or Alfredo (a creamy pecorino Romano cheese sauce), as well as white clam sauce and puttanesca (spicy, tangy tomato sauce sauteed with pepperoncinis, capers and olives).
The sauces take work, but fortunately, Carl likes work.
"I've worked in the kitchen all my life, since I
was 12 in my aunt's pizzeria in New Jersey," he said.
Carl Jr., who works as kitchen manager and chef, hasn't quite as long a track record, though experience at Ragazzi's and various High Country restaurants has fine-tuned his culinary cunning.
"Between his dad's and grandma's cooking, he came by it naturally," Pat said.
"Being around it everywhere helped," Carl Jr. added.
Apart from the chef's specialties, Carl Jr.'s talent can be found on the dessert menu, for which he plans to introduce a made-from-scratch cupcake of the day. Dessert already features cannoli, brownie and blondie sundaes, homemade tiramisu, homemade cheesecake and French silk pie. "We're doing just about everything homemade," Pat said.
Paolucci's is stocked with a full bar and a late-night menu. "And it's not just your usual fried foods," Pat said, mentioning pizza, chicken wings, meatball sliders and cherry pepper pork as examples.
Originally from New York, the Paoluccis are enjoying their new environs. They'd moved to Cary 14 years ago from Long Island, N.Y., where Carl worked for a local steakhouse. After the owners retired, Carl took his 20 years' experience with that restaurant and brought it to somewhere more affordable - North Carolina.
With their son attending Appalachian State University, Carl and Pat, after enjoying their frequent visits to the High Country, decided to establish their own restaurant in Boone. They've been met with a hearty and full-stomached welcome.
"We've had an excellent response," Pat said. "People are impressed with our quality, and we wanted to have a price range that lets everybody enjoy our food."
Paolucci's Italian Bar & Grill is located in the Marketplace at King Street, 783 W. King St., in downtown Boone. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, call (828) 268-7525, or visit Paolucci's on Facebook.
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