Venue Review: Trattoria Antica
The Charlotte Observer
Someone in the Waxhaw store I was combing (Stewart’s Village Gallery: a festival of beauty and weirdness that you should check out, if you haven’t) mentioned “this Italian place” nearby that “apparently is owned by a Charlotte guy?” She’d heard it’s “actually better than the one he has by SouthPark.”
Well, no, Augusto Conte’s Trattoria Antica in Waxhaw isn’t better than his Toscana, which was among Charlotte’s first truly memorable contemporary Italian places – and remains reliable. But it is a welcome changeup for the area, and nearly everything is solidly presented.
Start with the generous antipasti Toscano, which can be had for two or four. Two would actually feed four, if the four plan on entrées, which are also generously portioned, but taking home a little prosciutto or roasted peppers is never a bad thing.
Fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant, olives, coppa and salami join the plate, and you’ll already have the little bowl of cannellini beans with onion and olive oil to eat with good, fresh, loose-grained bread that comes complimentary to every table.
Take time as you nibble to note the copper implements – pots and kettles and spouty things – that dot shelves and the half wall between the dining room and the kitchen, and the comfortable feel of golden-washed walls, tiled floor and rich wood furniture throughout the small place. Not what you’d expect from its strip-mall location out Providence Road South.
Another good starter: The trattoria salad – bibb lettuce with tiny cubes of pancetta, walnuts, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and a mite too much buttermilk-based dressing.
I’d skip the pizza, since the Margherita we ordered proved soggy in the middle, thinly sauced and with a mere leaf or two of basil in its center. Clearly, pizza – there are seven variations, each 10 inches and thin crust – is not translating to here from Conte’s Mezzanotte, where I’ve had excellent pizza.
Staffers on both our visits made note that we should definitely try the osso buco special – and on both nights, it was not available. One night, they weren’t ready. On the other, they were already gone. (The fish of the day can be gone by 5:30, we were also told.)
So we opted for other things, among them a lovely tagliolini cacio e pepe, housemade noodles (essentially spaghetti) with salty shredded cheese (it’s caciocavallo, a stretched curd cheese, like provolone or mozzarella, from the south of Italy) and cracked black pepper. Another smart choice: a thick piece of salmon baked with cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers and served with thin-sliced potatoes.
Gnocchi is firm without being heavy, cut into cubes and served in tomato sauce beneath not-quite-melted chunks of fresh mozzarella, the effect of the whole being a heavy, wintry casserole. Go instead with the rigatoni buttera, with sausage, peas and tomato cream.
Lamb shank arrives with braising partners of carrot and celery prominent (and delicious), sided by broccoli – also wintry, but not so heavy. And, again, enormous.
The rest of the lineup is equally comfort-driven and a little more staid: fried calamari, garlic bread, Caesar salad, lasagne, seafood linguine, penne alla vodka, and of course veal and chicken parmesan, or done as scaloppine (piccata or marsala).
Servers work at casual warmth and comfort, and manager Carlos Garcia points out that customer requests – such as the yen for that osso buco, which diners had tried at other Conte locations – are taken very seriously.
“We’ve had a warm welcome from the people of Waxhaw.”