Chef builds Italian kitchen on Main Street
by Staff Writer
by Cathy Swiney
DAVIDSON – The story of Campania Café and Trattoria in Davidson starts in the New Jersey kitchen of Vinnie DiGiorgio’s grandmother.
In her care while his mother worked, young Vinnie learned how to make Italian food and use essential cooking techniques such as hand-making dough for ravioli and fresh pasta. From that experience, he wanted to open an Italian restaurant.
Flash forward to the college years, when Vinnie met his future wife, Nancy, who was studying business and finance. In her dorm room, they drafted business plans and wrote menus for their dream restaurant.
“I always knew a restaurant was part of our future,” Nancy said.
Following his completion of culinary school, a four-month apprenticeship in Rome and other culinary positions, the couple decided it was time to fulfill their dream. When opportunities kept falling through in New Jersey, they considered Charlotte because it met their requirements of being cosmopolitan, in the Eastern time zone and having four seasons. After looking at 22 spots from Ballantyne to Mooresville, the character of a former icehouse in Davidson charmed Vinnie.
Despite the fact that it was missing a kitchen, the location in a small town was the perfect place to open their trattoria. They added a kitchen and renovated the space to create Campania, named after the region in Italy from which Vinnie’s family descends.
In four years, the cozy neighborhood restaurant on Main Street’s south end has captured the attention of area palettes seeking casual, authentic Italian fare. The black linens on the 15 tables may seem formal, but with the wood floors and partially exposed rustic red brick, the atmosphere is inviting.
“He had this vision and thought it through all the way,” Nancy said. “We wanted the menu to be authentic but not to the point that it was alienating. We wanted it to feel comfortable, like grandma’s house.”
Vinnie draws inspiration from all regions of Italy, but mostly Rome. The menu, which lists selections in Italian, includes descriptions to avoid seeming stuffy. In addition to appetizers and salads, primi piatti features pasta entrees, while secondi piatti features meat and vegetable entrees.
“In a true Italian meal, people would start with pasta then get a meat and vegetable,” Nancy said. “We have had people do that or split a pasta and get an extra entrée.”
The well-rounded yet purposefully limited menu gives Vinnie the opportunity to be creative with specials. One recent special was Salmone alla Campania, grilled Alaskan Salmon with caramelized fennel, sautéed lentil beans, roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.
“We never wanted a five-page menu,” Nancy said. “This way, everything can be more focused, fresh.”
The menu also changes seasonally, although some items remain year-round, including spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant Parmesan and chicken marsala. Another constant is lasagna, although it is slightly modified depending on the season.
“For a week and a half when we switch, people get mad,” Vinnie said.
They don’t stay mad for long, unable to resist the meal.
For starters, try the colorful Bruschetta Pizzetta. Two homemade grilled focaccia slices are topped with prosciutto, arugula, Roma tomatoes, red onions, Kalamata olives and basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction. Polpetta alla Romana are Roman-style meatballs made with ground beef and pork, fennel seed, rosemary and pecorino Romano served in tomato sauce.
A refreshing salad to consider before the entrée is Panzanella. The Tuscan salad consists of homemade croutons, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, white cannellini beans, red onions and basil topped with olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon.
Among pasta dishes, Linguine con Gamberetti e Rucola is a standout. The thin pasta is topped with shrimp and arugula and served in a light tomato, white wine and butter sauce.
Non-pasta entrees include one of Vinnie’s favorites, Costoletta alla Griglia, a grilled pork chop marinated with fresh rosemary and garlic with sautéed mushrooms in a light sauce. A vegetarian option is Involtini di Melanzane, ricotta-filled eggplant topped with marina sauce and fresh mozzarella.
If Vinnie’s grandmother lived in Davidson, this time it would be him sharing his kitchen – and dream – with her.
Roppongi Sushi & Bar
Roppongi Sushi & Bar is now open in Huntersville’s Rosedale Shopping Center. The restaurant, named after a famous gathering area in Tokyo, Japan, features sushi, chef’s special and house rolls, and other Japanese specialties including tempura, teriyaki and katsu curry entrees. The restaurant is located at 14220 Oakhill Park Lane, Huntersville, 704-766-0788.