Worth the Drive: Ariccia
Ariccia: Serving romance with every dish
By Jennifer Kornegay
More to love
If you’re nowhere near Auburn, don’t fret. Our state is blessed with plenty of spots that’ll satisfy your appetite for love. Here are a few of my favorites.
Fisher’s Upstairs, Orange Beach
Awash in the soft colors of the sea, this fine dining restaurant is always a winner. You can’t choose wrong when ordering here. Every one of Chef Bill Briand’s delicious dishes is created using the freshest local ingredients, including seafood straight from Alabama’s Gulf waters. Go for the Oysters Earle.
In downtown Florence, Odette’s slim, sleek dining room (built into a 100-year-old building) is the place to sample Chef Josh Quick’s innovative twists on familiar flavors. Try the red curry deviled farm eggs. (You’ll never truly enjoy a regular deviled egg again.)
This downtown eatery boasts soaring ceilings lit by oversized gas lanterns, brick walls and exposed wood beams overhead. But the dining room with atmosphere to spare is only the beginning. Chef Leonardo Maurelli is in the kitchen, turning out some of the best plates in the state. Order the Hickory Crisped Duck Quarters.
Our Place, Wetumpka
Rustic, homey, warm and even elegant are the words that spring to mind when you walk into Our Place. Offering fine dining without any fussy attitude, it welcomes you to make it your place too. Don’t miss the bread pudding here.
Nick’s in the Sticks, Tuscaloosa
What it lacks in ambiance, this casual joint makes up for in plain ole good eats. What says “I love you” more than a reasonably priced filet mignon and a sugary, yet deceptively stiff drink in a plastic foam cup?
What’s the most romantic movie scene you can think of? The dinner scene from “Lady and the Tramp” ranks right up at the top of my list. The depiction of budding love blossoming over a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is simple and sweet.
This Valentine’s Day, follow the furry couple’s lead, and take your significant other out to dinner. You, too, can canoodle over noodles and other Italian favorites (minus the alley and accordion serenade) at Ariccia, housed in The Hotel at Auburn University in Auburn. Named for a town in Central Italy, this restaurant serves a side of amore with every delicious dish.
Flickering sconces and a single votive candle on every table cast a warm glow over the large dining area, but ask for one of the cozy, curved booths for a more intimate atmosphere. Start with a glass of wine from the nice-sized “by-the-glass” list, and munch on herbed focaccia bread (with olive oil and balsamic for dipping) while you look over the menu. Take note of the cedar-plank salmon; it made the “100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die” list.
If you want to keep things light, peruse the antipasti selections. Soothing tomato bisque with salty parmesan crisps, a cheese board featuring Alabama’s own Belle Chevre goat cheese and calamari with a spicy sauce: You could make a meal out of items on this section alone.
But then you’d miss the entrees. On certain nights, Ariccia offers a pasta bar, a steal of deal at $15.95 that lets you create your own idea of perfect. Choose your sauce, a meat (chicken, meatballs or shrimp) and veggies from a vast array, and if you can’t pick just one combination, that’s okay. You can go back as many times as your stomach will allow.
On the menu, options including Chicken Saltimbocca, classic Osso Buco, rigatoni swimming in hearty bolognese sauce and the complex collaboration of sweet, savory, bitter and tart found in the fig and pear pizza will transport your taste buds straight to Italy.
I opted for the Bisteca, a hefty 12-ounce rosemary- and sea salt-seasoned sirloin accompanied by thick wedges of skin-on Tuscan fries covered in parmesan lace and served with a flavorful herb sauce. The steak was seared to a just-right char on the outside yet tender enough for a butter knife’s cut to reveal a juicy pink center. But the potatoes were the best things on the plate. Slather them with the sauce and combine with a bite of the beef, and your only complaint will be that there just weren’t enough of them.
Maybe it’s a good thing, though. If you ate your weight in potatoes, you’d be too full to indulge in dessert, and what’s Valentine’s Day without chocolate? Skip the heart-shaped box from the drugstore, and instead, overload on the obligatory V-Day treat by ordering Ariccia’s Chocolate Trio, a decadent selection of varied textures and tastes with cocoa shining in the starring role. The fluffy chocolate spice cake, dense flourless chocolate torte and a creamy, dreamy chocolate-citrus semi fredo will require attending a few chocoholics anonymous meetings later in the month, but every bite is worth it.
There may not a be a mustached Italian chef singing to you as you dine, but the experience at Ariccia has all the makings of a beautiful evening and should have you humming “Bella Noche” to yourself as you leave.
Ariccia Italian Trattoria
241 S. College St., Auburn
Jennifer Kornegay travels to an out-of-the way restaurant destination in Alabama every month. She may be reached for comment at email@example.com. Check out more of Jennifer’s food writing, recipes and recommendations on her blog, Chew on This at www.jenniferkornegay.com.