Traditional recipes in the heart of a family restaurant

Myrtle Beach is lucky that the Toniolo family chose our area for the second location of their Italian restaurant called Stefano’s Cucina Rustica. They have owned the first location of the same name in Florence for 19 years.

The owners are Steve and Anna Toniolo, and their 23-year-old son, Steve, is the general manager of the new restaurant, which is located in Carolina Forest. Steve is a recent college graduate with a degree in business administration.

Stefano’s has a warm decor rich in the colors of a Tuscan sunset: umber, sienna, misty green. The low metal ceiling fans and lights have a terracotta hue, and the arches that look out into the kitchen give an old world feel. Classical Italian music is playing and it was the first time I heard “Volare” in Italian.

The vintage theme fits in with the family heritage recipes that the Toniolos use, such as their marinara sauce and meat that is rich, thick and sweetly spicy with fresh herbs and spices.

Meals start with a hot, fresh mini bread. The server brings a white plate with a resting place for a spoon containing fresh minced garlic and herbs. At the table, the server pours olive oil onto the plate and mixes it with the tablespoon of flavorings to create a fresh dipping oil.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. there is a special menu for lunch. For $ 7, diners can choose from lasagna, chicken tortellini, chicken parmesan, spaghetti, fettucine alfredo, cheese ravioli, or baked rigatoni, and they come with a choice of soup or salad, plus that wonderful bread (which It is baked fresh every day at Benjamin’s Bakery in Surfside Beach). There are also lunch specials, and the day I visited it was Stuffed Peppers.

But you don’t have to stick to the lunch menu at noon, because the regular menu is available for lunch or dinner. There are Paninis like Da Wise Guy with salami, capicola and mozzarella, or The Leaning Tower of Pizza with pepperoni, sausage, tomatoes and mozzarella. Also listed are Classic Hot Subs, such as Philly Cheesesteak and Parmigiana Sub with meatballs, sausage, eggplant, and chicken.

Some folks were enjoying the pizzas, which can come with gourmet toppings like meatballs, portabello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and plum tomatoes. There are also large and small Stromboli, and stuffed pizzas like chicken and broccoli, the Veggie of Venice, and a double cheeseburger with bacon.

Stefano’s has wings (soft, medium, hot, extreme, or teriyaki) and salads that include Antipasto, Buffalo Chicken, Buffalo Shrimp, Fried Tortellini, and Fried Calamari.

Appetizers are hearty, including broccoli and cheddar puff pastries, fried calimari, provolone fritta (fried provolone with marinara), and caprese (fresh mozzarella and tomato slices drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with fresh basil). Tried the wonderful Toasted Crab Ravioli, where the ravioli are filled with a flavorful crab sauce, deep fried until crisp, and served with Alfredo sauce.

Many of the main dishes are what you would expect and come in huge portions. There is Lasagna Al Forno, Ravioli Di Quattro Formaggi (four cheeses), Manicotti, Parmigiana Alla Sorrentina with chicken, eggplant or beef and Chicken or Beef Marsala.

I tried the Canneloni, which are pasta sheets stuffed and rolled with ground beef, pork, veal, spinach, and four cheeses, then baked and served with mozzarella toppings and gravy. It was hearty and tasty, and I could only eat a third. My husband enjoyed the rest of dinner.

You can also order custom pasta, where you have a variety of pasta, a variety of sauces, and you can choose from a variety of ingredients.

Some chicken entrees include Pollo Fumigata or Smothered Chicken; Tuscana chicken (lemon); and Rigatoni Raggiata, which stands for Angry Rigatoni and is a hearty dish with pasta, chicken, Italian sausage, banana peppers, and Alfresco sauce. On the meat list are Bistecca Pizzaiola (a covered ribeye) and Bistecca Toscana (marinated ribeye). There’s a catch of the day, plus Gamberi Marinara (gamberi are shrimp), Lobster Ravioli, and Tesoro Di Mare (shrimp and scallops in fettucine with Alfredo sauce).

For dessert there are a couple of cheesecakes, tiramisu and cannoli.

The service is warm, friendly, and efficient. I was even greeted by waiters serving other tables, and I was grateful that my leftovers were packed for me at the table. This is a great date spot or family restaurant, and I guess Carolina Forest residents will be grateful to have a place like this for dinner that doesn’t have to go out in heavy traffic.

Stefano’s Cucina Rustica is at 2005 Oak Heart Road, in the mall on the Piggly Wiggly side of Carolina Forest Boulevard. The number is 903-7238, and they are open from 11 am to 10 pm Monday through Friday, until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 9 pm on Sundays.

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