Authenticity is a word that gets carelessly tossed around, especially when it comes to food. But at DiVino Ristorante Italiano, a newly opened Tuscan restaurant in Hammond’s Ferry, the meaning of the word rings true, from the modern design to the warm hospitality to the menu. Husband-and-wife team Andrea and Marion Petruzzi moved here from Florence to pursue Andrea’s dream of opening a restaurant, a project that was two years in the making.
They modeled the restaurant after a typical Florentine establishment, blending contemporary elements—like the gorgeous white marble bar and dramatic curtained entrance—with plenty of personal touches. There are commissioned photographs of Florence, the owners’ initials in block lettering over the archway and posters of ballerinas—besides her keen eye for design, Marion is also a professional dancer. The space is suffused with a warmth you might expect when dining at a friend’s house, which is echoed by the homespun yet professional service.
Once you’ve taken in the ambience, you’ll want to spend some time with the extensive menu of typical Tuscan dishes. Veteran chef Leonardo Accorsi, who moved to North Augusta from Certaldo (a town 20 minutes from Florence), describes the cuisine as one that features plenty of herbs and good olive oil as well as an affinity for both seafood and meat, depending on whether or not one lives closer to the coast. Order accordingly and start the evening with the charcuterie board, starring a variety of cured Italian meats.
Share a few of the fresh pastas, like tangles of hand-cut fettuccine served with savory sausage, earthy mushrooms and Taleggio, or paired with a deceptively simple tomato sauce, a dish whose successful execution won chef Accorsi the job.
Signature entrees include a melt-in-your-mouth sea bass filet accompanied by burst tomatoes and olives, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a two-pound prime T-Bone steak that’s a meat lover’s dream. A variety of soups, salads, risotto and pizzas round out the menu, along with an array of tempting desserts. Be sure to save room for the heavenly tiramisu. Heavenly is not an overstatement, and it’s fitting given that divino means divine in Italian. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
“A little something extra”
With its dark, spicy flavors—a mix of snappy rye, allspice dram and a couple dashes of orange bitters—Abel Brown’s Dram Yankees cocktail delivers a satisfying sip that head bartender Steven Tsoukalas describes as “liquid autumn.”
Recipe courtesy Steven Tsoukalas of Abel Brown
1 1/2 oz. High West Rye
1/2 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters #6
Orange slice, for garnish
Shake all ingredients together and serve on the rocks with an orange slice.
This time of year, our taste buds’ attention wanes from light, breezy libations and turns to flavors that align with the cooling temperatures. Bars around town are following suit by offering a tempting array of hot cocktails, as well as drinks that favor seasonal fruit and toasty spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. So ditch the pumpkin spice latte in favor of something a little stronger for a warm, fuzzy feeling that will last all winter long. Here are some of the clever creations we can’t wait to sip.
“We’re a neighborhood bar that happens to be known for our craft cocktails and log cabin atmosphere, fireplace and all,” says Steven Moore, owner/operator of The Indian Queen. What better place to sip a hot, boozy beverage? Cozy up with the Hot Johnny, a play on a hot toddy featuring whiskey-spiked hot apple cider, lemon juice, cinnamon simple syrup and a cinnamon stick garnish. If hot cocktails aren’t your thing, look for cinnamon-laced drinks, like the Ginger Pear, where cinnamon simple syrup plays off the sweet-spicy combination of pear vodka and ginger beer, or the Queen Bee, a gin and honey concoction that gets its warm tingle from ground cinnamon.
Behind the bar at Abel Brown, head bartender Steven Tsoukalas and his team drew inspiration from the sour family (whiskey sour, sidecar) to come up with “Dram Yankees.” Switching around spirits and playing with brooding flavors—like rye whiskey, allspice dram and orange bitters—created a cocktail that is at once familiar and new. “Honestly, that feeling of familiarity is what a lot of autumn drinks and dishes are all about,” explains Tsoukalas. “It’s the season of Thanksgiving with the exact brand of cranberry sauce you like, or that exact candy you wanted trick-or-treating as a kid. We use some ingredients that may not be completely familiar to the average patron, but comfort is immediate with the first sip because the flavors are so iconic to our culture this time of year.” (See Lagniappe for the recipe.)
Downtown, The Bee’s Knees is bringing back hot mulled wine, where red wine mingles with Captain Applejack Brandy, a winter spice blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and star anise, and fresh cranberries. Next door at The Hive, the Nice Pear Margarita is back by popular demand, where tequila gets the fall treatment with a cinnamon-, clove- and star anise-infused sour mix and a cinnamon-sugar-dusted rim. A few doors down at Fuse you can warm up with a comforting cup of Hot Buttered Rum, a classic sweater-weather tipple that gets its glossy, sugar-and-spice finish from butter infused with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, brown sugar and honey.
For Organically You co-owner Joseph Anson, it’s all about providing people with a better way of living by offering organic and local artisan products at his North Augusta store. Besides their promise to “live better, feel better—organically,” the thoughtfully curated store doubles as your one-stop shop for holiday entertaining and gift giving.
A holiday cheese board is an easy, elegant entertaining solution, from pre-Thanksgiving noshing to Christmas cocktail parties—plus, it doubles as a conversation starter. Stock up on a variety of cheeses like Trail Ridge Farms goat’s milk cheese from Aiken, S.C.—try the Sicilian Coast—and casevs, an old-school Roman feta cheese ball from gourmet food purveyor Castra Rota out of Brunson, S.C. The shop also carries Castra Rota’s freshly baked rustic loaves, the perfect vehicle for all of that delicious cheese, as well as briny imported olives, a classic cheese board complement.
Anson and his team experiment weekly with fettucine varieties, like fresh egg and spinach, or cilantro and brown rice.
We’ve also combed the store and put together a holiday gift guide for the foodies in your life.
For the sweet fiend
Goat’s milk fudge from Trail Ridge Farms. With its pleasing soft-chewy consistency, these creamy sweets satisfy your sugar craving with a side of tang.
For the foodie with a conscious
Bean-to-bar chocolate from Antebellum Chocolate Company. Their “buy a bar, feed a child” program helps benefit hungry kids in the area.
For the coffee snob
Dean’s Beans 100 percent fair trade, 100 percent organic coffee. Try an unusual blend like Ring of Fire, featuring high altitude
coffee beans from active volcanic soils.
For the health nut
Organically You’s Fire Tonic. Try this immune-boosting blend of apple cider vinegar, lemon, orange, ginger, garlic, horseradish and turmeric as a zesty salad dressing or in a hot toddy.
For the naturalist
Raw honey from Bee Trail Farms. Raw honey is unheated and pasteurized, so it retains more natural enzymes and vitamins, making it an excellent source of antioxidants and minerals.
This article appears in the November-December 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.