Italia Cafe is one of these places that has managed to acquire a serious following by word of mouth. It’s #4 on Urbanspoon’s Lawrenceville ranking, and a casual examination of that ranking would have led any reasonable person to assume it was a pretty good place. Some of the reviews, however, are positively bubbly, as if this is not just a good restaurant, but an exceptional one. Many of the writers are first timers, people who aren’t married to iPhones and making daily or weekly reviews. So what would a more experienced reviewer think of the place? I was curious.
Our first try to get to Italia was blocked by the popularity of the place. We drove up, parked behind a vintage Chevrolet in immaculate condition, only to find that there was no seating for three that night. So we came back the next day, for a late lunch. It’s a pretty restaurant, carved out of an old Kentucky Fried Chicken, with perhaps a dozen tables for four and six to eight tables for two.
We ordered drinks and antipasto, and while we waited bread was served, along with a basil pesto and a seafood based dipping sauce. I took a bit of the bread and tried both sauces. I personally favored the pesto. My daughter liked the seafood sauce.
Antipasto followed, along with a salad my wife ordered, their Italian. We ended up carving the salad into three, so we could all have some. Though ranch was served with the salad, our waiter offered balsamic vinegar and olive oil, which I happily took. That pairing is easy on someone with my food issues. The antipasto was very good, the mozzarella so light and mild it could have easily been mistaken for a softer cheese. The salad, with dark green and tender leaves, was an excellent starter.
Entrees soon followed. My wife had their frutti di mare, and my daughter their gambero. I had their lamb chops, myself.
Every dish was very good, and it wasn’t long before we were sharing items from each plate. My daughter snagged a chop and my wife was offering bits of seafood from her plate. The chops were tender, and the wine sauce a welcome addition to the meat. The pasta was nicely cooked, what little I could try. The green beans, the brussels sprouts, the vegetables on my plate were spot on.
Around this time, the owner, Giorgio, came out, said his hellos, and recognized us from the night before. He apologized for the lack of seating that night. I told him that he should be happy he’s getting such a good crowd at nights. Before the night was over we also met one of the chefs from the back. Service overall here is personal, focused, and intimate, with an owner clearly engaged in his own business. Our waiter also seemed to thoroughly enjoy what he was doing.
It didn’t take much to talk us into a dessert. We haven’t been eating many desserts as I’ve been dieting, but I’m nearly through with this one, and what would a bite of something creamy hurt? My wife chose their sfogliatella napolitana (I can pronounce that about as well as Ash can pronounce “Klaatu Barada Nickto”). It’s a kind of cream filled pastry, with flavors of almond mixed in with the cream. Even I had to have a bite, a small bite, of our dessert. In a word: delicious.
In trying to define what I like about Italia, these elements stand out. The atmosphere is very elegant. The dishes are not cheap, but neither are they expensive, given the quality of the food. The food offers terrific value for the dollar. Service is excellent. And the intimacy of the dining experience sets it apart from almost any other eatery in the area. It’s easily one of the best restaurants within 10 minutes of Snellville, and to be frank, in the northeast of Atlanta.
Verdict: A focused, intimate place, terrific meals, excellent service, an engaged owner. A blogger’s dream restaurant in many ways. Very highly recommended, perhaps exceptional.
139 S Clayton Street
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
Getting to Italia
Head down 124 towards Lawrenceville until you get to the intersection of Clayton Street and 124. Please note that Clayton Street becomes Grayson Highway right at this intersection, so if you see the Grayson Highway sign, turn left. Italia Cafe will be on your left in less than a block, so stay in the left most lane as you turn.
From I-85 heading north, one way would be to take Pleasant Hill Road east from I-85, to Ronald Reagan Boulevard. You can take Ronald Reagan until it ends at 124 and turn left, but you can avoid a lot of traffic if you will exit at the Webb Ginn Road exit and turn left, under Ronald Reagan and away from Brookwood High School. Webb Ginn will cross 124 and this short cut will avoid most of the harsh traffic at the RR-124 intersection.
From Grayson and Loganville:
Get onto Highway 20, the road of many names, and follow it until it becomes Clayton Street.
I’d be tempted to take Sugarloaf Parkway from I-85 east until it runs into Highway 124. Take a left, and follow the Snellville instructions from that point on.
From Stone Mountain:
Take 78 to 124, and turn left. Follow the Snellville instructions from that point on.