Villaggio Ristorante & Bar

05 Apr 2021

Fine dining in Pinehurst features exceptional Italian specialties

By RAY LINVILLE  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Since it opened a few months ago, Villaggio Ristorante & Bar in the heart of historic Pinehurst has more than surpassed the expectations of savvy locals and out-of-town guests who want to enjoy an exquisite, fine-dining experience.

After Ron and Julie Milton bought the Magnolia Inn in March 2020, they made significant updates to the historic property, which was built in 1896. From Café L’Europe, their upscale restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, they brought the fine-dining expertise they gained there to plan and open Villaggio with amazing results.

As would be expected, the stars of the menu are traditional Italian dishes and regional specialties. “Our most popular choices are veal marsala, lasagna, chicken piccata, and the homemade ravioli,” says Persefoni Nico, the restaurant’s manager.

“The reception by the local community since we opened has been great. We’ve been told that our fine dining is exactly what Pinehurst has needed,” she adds.

What makes the chicken piccata so popular? Chef Frank Aliose explains, “You got to start with the right ingredients. We use only free-range chickens. Then the acidity of the lemon sets off the dish with dry Sicilian capers imported from Italy and all the love we add.”

Aliose’s family traditions encouraged him to become a chef. “I grew up in a large Sicilian home, and everything was encompassed around food and all the love it gives,” he says.

The first courses include marinated and grilled calamari as well as rosette al forno, which is rose-shaped pasta stuffed with fortina and mascarpone cheeses. Each one is a delightful way to start an superb dinner.

Options for the next course range from the traditional caprese and Caesar salads to Il Villaggio, which is a seasonal spring mix of garden greens with fresh grapefruit, pine nuts, pickled red onions, and enhanced with champagne vinaigrette. Zuppa del giorno, the chef’s soup creation of the day, is always noteworthy.

The house-crafted pastas and aromatic breads are made fresh daily. The seven choices of pasta dishes such as the classical spaghetti, linguini, lasagna, and ravioli are each enriched by one of the chef’s signature sauces that include besciamella, marinara, and others that are distinctive. For example, the besciamella sauce enhances the risotto that is crafted from imported Arborio rice and served with fresh wild mushrooms and Grana Padano chess.

The nine poultry, meat, and seafood dishes have been selected to appeal to discriminating palates. The freshest fish, chicken, veal, steak and chops are perfectly prepared, and each one is accompanied by seasonal vegetables of the day. From duck to veal to a 14-ounce prime-cut ribeye, creative sauces again enhance the flavors. For example, the grilled grouper is served with a distinctive Salmoriglio sauce, which is made from olive oil, lemon, garlic, and oregano.

After enjoying a superb entrée, nothing completes an enjoyable evening like a decadent dessert. The dolci choices at Villaggio Ristorante are spectacular. Tiramisu is always a favorite, but also consider the millefoglie ai fruitti di bosco — a puff pastry berry compote with a faintly sweet and enticingly smooth zabaglione cream. Enjoyment of each dessert can be enhanced with a specialty coffee, dessert wine, cognac, or port wine.

The carefully selected wine list features premium wines as well as popular favorites. Handcrafted cocktails are also excellent choices. As the temperatures warm, consider the cranberry jalapeno margarita or the Pinehurst sour.

The fine dining experience at Villaggio is now being enjoyed by seasonal golf groups as well as locals who return for the superbly prepared Italian dishes and specialties. Nico says, “Many locals dine with us weekly and a few several times a week.”

Each of Villaggio’s three dining rooms can be booked for a special occasion, and together the three rooms can serve up to 54 guests. The large outdoor patio is the ideal scene for dining and weekend music. “The patio opened again in March, and we’re having live music on Friday and Saturday evenings,” Nico says. Because it can accommodate up to 80 people, it’s also a preferred location for a special event or wedding ceremony.

The Villaggio is the perfect complement for the historic inn, which is the second oldest boarding house in the village. With 10 charming guest rooms, the inn is a welcoming place to stay for golfers and other out-of-town guests.

The Villaggio at the Magnolia Inn is located at 65 Magnolia Rd, Pinehurst.

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