Enjoy authentic Italian food, atmosphere at Nonna Rosa

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Danny Tinnel says he hit the trifecta with Peppe Gialone, gaining a son-in-law, business partner and executive chef for Nonna Rosa, the new, family-owned Italian restaurant in Okatie Center Shopping Plaza near Sun City.

"We're not trying to be Italian, we are Italian," says Gialone, who grew up in Pozzuoli, Sofia Loren's hometown on the southern coast of Italy, watching his grandmother, Nonna Rosa, create dishes from recipes passed down through generations.

Its proximity to Naples meant that many of those dishes included seafood, and Gialone buys his fresh daily, expanding on the regular menu with specials featuring lobster, grouper or swordfish. Le Cozze (mussels) and Le Vongole (little neck clams) and Calamari (squid) are $12 appetizers distinguished by their preparation.

Perfectly executed as they are at Nonna Rosa, no one can be blamed for wanting to make a meal of them, scooping up every last morsel of sauce with crusty bread and washing it down with a nice Vino Rosso Italiano (there are 15 to choose from on the wine list, 10 of which are available by the glass.)

Scungilli (sea snails or conch) would be one of the dishes a skilled nonna might prepare as an insalata or Scungilli alla Marinara. Gialone's version of the latter, a recent special, was made with tasty, tender morsels of dark scungilli meat in a sauce redolent with minced garlic, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley and spices. If you like escargot, you will love this dish.

Salads, from $5 to $14, include Pear and Gorgonzola, featuring fresh pear, tomato, onion and gorgonzola served on a bed of spring mix, as well as Prosciutto and Mozzarella.

Burrata, another special, is an exquisite cheese like no other that is made from mozzarella and cream, giving it a unique, soft texture.

More than a dozen pasta entrees, from $13 to $19, include Gnocchi (potato dumplings) Sorrentina, Pappardelle Bolognese and La Puttanesca. I still remember sitting on a New Jersey beach in the early '80s when I heard a guy talking about making puttanesca, which translates, literally, to "characteristic of a prostitute." He said it got its name from Naples prostitutes, who would combine whatever the sailors they serviced caught with what they had on hand from the cupboard to make a sauce, a tidbit of food lore I found intriguing.

Nonna Rosa's adaptation is authentically assertive - bold with the intense flavors of garlic, capers, olives and crushed red pepper. It is delicious over Gialone's fresh catch of the day with mussels and shrimp.

Entrees, $19 to $23, include eggplant, chicken or veal served with angel hair pasta. Tinnel said Gialone will make items on request with 24 hours' notice, including osso bucco and broccoli rabe, occasionally available as specials.

Diners can expect a friendly, attentive wait staff, linen tablecloths and a full bar. Reservations are highly recommended; call 843-707-1750.

Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.

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