Cucina Antica: gourmet from the hearth

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By Julia Donnini

“Ooh, a fireplace,” noted my friend Alyx. I had heard rumblings about Cucina Antica before, but nobody had mentioned that selling point.

 Once inside, we couldn’t help but be charmed by the friendly staff and unassuming décor. Co-owners Christy and William Wisell have owned the restaurant for eight years and it is an obvious staple in the community. The pizzas are available at numerous retail locations, from co-ops in Brattleboro to the Shelburne Supermarket. For their first year, I learned, the couple operated out of the bottom floor of their apartment in South Burlington. Even with the transition to Shelburne, the restaurant hasn’t lost any of its quaintness. A faux fireplace blazes on a television and William’s warming presence encourages you to focus solely on the task at hand: assessing the fall/winter menu.

 Before we made a decision, the server informed us that a house salad comes with every entrée. Sweet salad dressings don’t usually interest me, but Cucina’s homemade maple vinaigrette is a well-balanced, sweet reminder of the season.

 In between courses, we discovered a nook designed just for child’s play. Three walls sport chalkboard paint and bright tubs house art supplies. Some restaurants induce fits, but this cove allows kids to harness their creativity instead. After an evening here, one might scoff at a simple box of crayons.

 Meanwhile, the restaurant’s bar is nestled up to the take-out area, a clear hint. Guests can snuggle up with a brew while waiting for their food. “We like families to be able to relax and enjoy a nice meal with their children and not feel out of place,” co-owner Christy explained. The duo isn’t putting on any airs. The space is truly disarming in its thoughtfulness.

 Focused on my own cravings, I looked to the pizza menu. Cucina has a loyal following and I was interested to find that white, wheat, and gluten-free crusts were all options. Alyx and I sprung for the sausage artichoke pizza which was a fresh and welcome snack. Decorated with artichokes, caramelized onions, and fennel-scented sausage, the pie was topped with fresh arugula. One slice and we were smitten. We also chose to split the lobster alfredo, which turned out to be creamy perfection. A handful of arugula kissed the top of this dish too, giving it a friendly bite.

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 Toward the end of the evening, William reminded us to save room for dessert. Before I left the office that day, reminders were adamant: “You must try the lemon cake.” The topic was not up for discussion. Still, Christy’s dessert du jour sounded too irresistible: a white chocolate cheesecake spiked with peppermint schnapps, topped with peppermint bark, and set in to an Oreo cookie crust. William suggested an assortment of sweets, adding a chocolate-dipped cannoli. Words can’t express. We had donned our sparkly red heels but we were always at home.

 For an intimate meal, appeal to your Valentine. Cucina Antica is located at 43 Shelburne Shopping Center and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 9 pm. Call (802) 985-1117 or visit www.bistrocucina.com for reservations.

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