Unassuming Yet Exceptional
The word is out about La Cucina Italian Grill in Sunset Beach.
Dave didn’t get the pork chops. And not only because they weren’t on the menu.
Pork chops are his go-to dish, but he opted instead for La Cucina Italian Grill’s Chicken and Shrimp Pomidoro, a “special” that night. And special it was, because when he was finished, there was little need to wash his plate, as every bit of his delicious dinner was consumed, chunky pomidoros and all.
It’s only fitting that I begin this story with Dave, because it was at his suggestion that my OIB Dining Team visited the little Italian restaurant located behind the Food Lion in Sunset Beach. And his suggestion was a winner.
Unless you knew it was there, you might drive right by La Cucina Italian Grill if you’re heading south on Highway 179. But that would be your loss.
The place puts out some incredible food, and judging by the numbers of folks who were pouring into the place, La Cucina is not a secret.
A few unlucky folks who did not have reservations were turned away at the door, so do yourself a favor and reserve a table ahead of time.
According to our affable, engaging server, Ryan, the place was packed every night prior to COVID, and, in his assessment, those numbers are returning, especially on the weekends.
The unassuming restaurant seats maybe 40-plus people, and it places a much higher premium on food quality, service and presentation than on fancy trappings and ostentatious decor. If you’re looking for hifalutin’ ambience, you’re likely to be disappointed. But that minor disappointment will disappear quickly if what you seek is exceptional Italian food.
Ryan, as it turns out, is a fellow craft beer nut who regularly trades great craft beers with friends around the country, and he was completely candid when he said that La Cucina’s “craft” beer list was a bit mundane. But that was fine with The PubScout, who usually eschews beer with Italian food, opting instead for red wine. Liquid bread with pasta (more bread) is not in my playbook. An excellent house Cabernet filled the bill.
And speaking of bread, Ryan warned us not to fall into the “bread trap,” in which you consume so much bread, your dinner goes home in a box. We tried to heed his advice, but when the house-made bread is as good as La Cucina’s, leaving any on the nonstop plates, which keep appearing magically, is simply sinful.
We shared a Saucy Shrimp appetizer that was phenomenal, and we all used that delicious bread repeatedly to sop up the delicate, delicious sauce it swam in. The pre-entree salads were also noteworthy and impossibly fresh.
Apart from “Father” Dave’s selection, his missus, Eileen, had Shrimp and Scallops Scampi, and her bowl was almost as clean as her husband’s. Probably would have been as clean had there been any La Cucina bread left at the table, but we had finished three plates of that ambrosia already.
My missus enjoyed her Penne a la Vodka, but it being our cheat day, her bread consumption had put her into the “doggy-bag” category.
There were three chicken dishes I wanted to try — Piccata, Marsala and Franchese.
After Ryan’s description, I chose the Chicken Marsala, and I was amazed at the blend of flavors therein. I haven’t had a better Marsala down here, but I will definitely be back at least twice more for the others.
While the clientele was of mixed ages, we noted that there was a preponderance of “seasoned citizens” both seated in the restaurant and waiting to be seated. That’s usually a tell-tale sign of quality, because while we geezers don’t know much about Instagram and Tik-Tok, we do know where the best food is.
And we will definitely be back to La Cucina with no reservations. Other than the table kind, of course.
La Cucina Italian Grill got Father Dave’s highest accolades. Even without the pork chops.
Want to go?
La Cucina Italian Grill
1780 Chandlers Lane #11, Sunset Beach