La Fornarina is an unassuming restaurant nestled in Stonecrest Village shopping center where Italian street chef Santi Arria is working magic with flour.
Arria, owner of the La Fornarina restaurant in Messina, Italy, since 1986, is pursuing the American dream at the La Fornarina in Tega Cay, which opened in the spring.
La Fornarina translates loosely to little bakeress. The thought that the restaurant takes its name from the painting of his lover by the Italian master Raphael is romantic, but untrue. The name comes from Arria’s mother, who as a girl worked on a dough making machine called La Fornarina. Arria’s parents ran a restaurant in Italy since the 1950s, so although Arria’s English is coming along, he grew up bilingual.
“I speak flour,” he says.
The jewel of La Fornarina is the restaurant’s fresh breads and pastas: handmade lasagnas, raviolis, focaccia and Italian breads that serve as the bases for pizzas, bruschetta and panini. There is no skimping on quality ingredients; when Arria can’t find the flours without additives and preservatives that he wants, he imports them. He says items on the Tega Cay menu also appear at his restaurant in Messina, which his parents still operate.
Vegan options are a garden salad with lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, black olives and carrots – hold the parmesan – and meatless choices abound: panini on fresh focaccia with eggplant, roasted peppers, zucchini and mozzarella; fresh ravioli with spinach, ricotta and tomato sauce; potato gnocchi in sage butter sauce; and meatless pizza and pasta choices. The signature Fornarina Pizza on focaccia with eggplant, fresh ricotta and tomato sauce is a must try.
Familiar but beautifully executed options include lasagna, calzones, manicotti, spaghetti and eggplant or chicken parmigiana. For something different, try the Delizioso stuffed with ham, tomato, mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil, or the Arancino, a lightly breaded rice ball stuffed with ham, peas, meat sauce and mozzarella.
At La Fornarina, food comes out in unpretentious red plastic baskets, and the modest prices on the menu belie the quality of the food inside. Many of the dishes are street fare, ideal foods for lunch or a casual dinner that can be taken on the go without knife or fork, but you’ll want to sit down and enjoy it.
Want to go?
La Fornarina, 1143 Stonecrest Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Find it on Facebook: La Fornarina Italian Cuisine