Monday, November 03, 2014
By Jan Scalisi , produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Sometimes, only a steaming plate of pasta and a glass of good red wine will do.
Just in the past few months, a stroll along downtown Spartanburg’s Morgan Square has included that enticing option. The Italian restaurant is not a new one, but a long-time local favorite that has completed its relocation.
Finally, Renato In Centro has arrived downtown.
For Renato Marmolino, owner and chef, the downtown location has meant a 60 percent increase in new business. For business/leisure travelers and Spartanburg Marriott Hotel clients, it means a fine Italian restaurant is within easy walking or driving distance. For local Italian food lovers, it means that Renato’s has taken its rightful place in the heart of the city.
But let’s talk about what really matters: food and wine. When you walk into the long narrow building, with its straight visual shot through the beautiful bar and the line-up of table-clothed tables— punctuated by large, colorful paintings by local artist Buck Brandt—into whose hands are you putting your gastronomic fate?
It’s in the hands of Chef Renato, who except for his lifetime love of cooking, could be considered an accidental restaurateur. Arriving in Spartanburg in 1990, Renato came here on a short-term contract to help another restaurant owner open Anthony’s, an Italian restaurant once located on Kennedy Street.
Alas, the owner skipped town six months later, leaving a chef who had cooked in Chicago and New York City with a decision to make: Should he go back to the big cities, or stay in a small Southern town and open his own restaurant?
Renato stayed, to the delight of his customers.
Born in Lucca, Italy, in the Tuscany region, Renato has this to say about his love of food: “Anything that comes out of my mind is food.” It’s arguably in his genes. His mother and grandmother were excellent cooks, he says, and his father, a traveling shoe salesman, treated his family to fine dining. Self-trained, Renato has always cooked, and now he cooks lunch and dinner six days a week at Renato In Centro.
True to its Italian roots, Renato’s fare is created with 90 percent products imported from Italy, from the olive oil and the pasta, to the bufala mozzarella and the extensive wine list. Authentic cuisine is important to the chef, who decries the Americanization of Italian food. His basic tomato sauce is traditionally simple: San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, imported Italian olive oil, sea salt, garlic, pepper, and fresh basil.
Chef Renato describes his menu as “something for everyone.” Lunch fare runs from $7 to $14, and dinners, with a choice of antipasti, pizzas, soups, salads, pasta dishes, and entrees, top out at $36 for a Filetto Gorgonzola. Quality wines sell by the glass for $7 to $8, if that’s your preference, and the full- service bar includes premium liquors and cocktail desserts ($8 to $10.) Dessert, did you say? How about some espresso or cappuccino with tiramisu or cannoli, both made on-site.
Still, a man—and his restaurant—is more than just cooking. Renato’s success is owed in part to the man himself, a handsome Italian with more than a hint of a Tuscan accent who takes pride in knowing his customers by name and having them come to greet him in his shiny new kitchen.
“Everyone wants something special,” Renato says. “We’re happy to make whatever they like.” His new downtown location offers him an even greater opportunity to serve his customers, old and new, and he’s excited to be there. “It was the right time,” he says of his renovation of the old downtown building. “I could have moved five years ago, but downtown has more momentum now.” He points to his storefront as the best advertisement he could have.
Italian dining in Spartanburg does not start and stop in the middle of town. Two other locally owned Italian restaurants anchor the city to the east and the west.
Fratello’s Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine opened on the eastside in the fall of 2014, another happy relocation from its former location in the county. Packed from day one, Fratello’s is a casual restaurant offering everything from hot heroes to appetizers, salads, baked dishes, entrees, calzones, and a range of specialty pizzas for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
La Taverna Italian Restaurant, opened by Neapolitan native chef and owner Rosario Piagliese in 2008 on the westside of town, offers Northern Italian food for lunch and dinner, complete with pasta, chicken, seafood, veal, featured specials, and New York-style pizza. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday.
Photos by Socialight Media
Jan Scalisi, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Jan Scalisi is a freelance writer and editor who also serves on Spartanburg’s City Council. She loves her town, good books and good movies, dancing until the lights go off, and all kinds of design.