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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Iacofano's

Real Wise Guys: Iacofano's gets an American-Italian upgrade

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Iacofano's Italian Bar & Grill
Italian
626 Coleman Blvd.
Mt. Pleasant
(843) 881-2313
www.ipizzagrill.com
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($11- $18)
Serving: Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch

We've been blessed in recent years with the arrival of authentic Italian food to Charleston, bringing an array of specialties from the many different regions of Italy. From artichokes and pancetta to slow-braised shanks, we now know there's a lot more to Italian cooking than the red sauce and melted mozzarella our grandparents ate.

Still, there remains a soft spot in my heart for old-school American-Italian restaurants, with their lasagnas and alfredos and veal parm. Done wrong (and they usually are) these are drab schlock. Done right, they're a form of American comfort food. Iacofano's Italian Bar & Grill, with its recent menu additions, does it the right way.

For years, Iacofano's Deli has been serving salads, pizzas, and sandwiches at the original Windermere Plaza location in West Ashley as well as an outpost in Mt. Pleasant. A few months ago, owner John Iacofano upgraded the formula in the Mt. P location from deli to bar and grill, adding more Italian entrées and a full liquor license for the bar.

The appetizers run the familiar gamut from artichoke dip to calamari friti (both $7), but everything's executed just a little better than you would expect. With the bruschetta ($7), the bread is neither too crispy nor too soggy, and the fresh mozzarella blends smoothly with the chunks of tomato and just the right amount of basil. Iacofano's fried cheese ($6) isn't your standard basket of deep-fried cheese sticks but rather round slices of pan-seared fresh mozzarella that are lightly breaded, fried a golden brown, and served with three small bowls of marinara, pesto, and alfredo sauces for dipping.

The new entrée selection offers everything from a seafood risotto ($15) to a New York strip steak topped with a mushroom marsala sauce ($18). I thought the filling in the lobster ravioli ($16) was a little bland and creamy, but my dining companion told me I was nuts and that it was absolutely marvelous. We both agree, though, that the roasted tomato and saffron sauce and fried spinach are perfect accompaniments for the pasta.

The lasagna ($12 for a single entrée, $24 for a "family-style" portion) is an undisputed treat. The pasta is rolled out fresh, giving it a toothy texture with delightfully crispy edges. Big chunks of sausage and beef are layered between the pasta sheets, and the thick tomato sauce is spread in a ring around the big square slice rather than mixed in with the filling. The strips of fresh basil, tossed over the top, finish things off with big kicks of flavor. It's the perfect balance of ingredients and the kind of dish that will call you back again and again.

All the entrées come with two hallmarks of the Italian-by-way-of-Jersey-and-Cleveland form. The heaping "side salad" is big enough to be a dinner to itself, with leaf lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, and carrots all topped by a big mound of shredded cheddar and mozzarella. The garlic bread is old school, too: a long loaf sliced vertically and soaked in melted garlic butter.

Iacofano's menu may have gotten a facelift, but the restaurant itself remains humble and unassuming. On a typical weeknight, it seems just a two-man operation, with a bartender/waiter handling the front of the house and a lone cook in the back serving up the orders. The newly-stocked full bar is on the right side of the room, while a few big booths and a handful of tables line the left wall. A couple of posters of Italian streetscapes and some fake ivy around the wall sconces hint at the food's distant origins, but it's the framed photographs of what appear to be old family members that give everything a homey feel.

For old-time Iacofano Deli fans, the sandwiches, salads, and pizza haven't changed. These range from the "Big John" ($8), with its blend of cold Italian meats with provolone, banana peppers, and roasted red peppers, to classics like the big meatball ($8) and Philly cheesesteak ($8). Of particular note is the All-American ($7), a combination of ham, turkey, roast beef, and bacon along with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a hoagie. The ingredients are nothing unusual. What makes it a great sandwich is the same perfect balance you get in the lasagna: bread crisply toasted (but not too crispy), cheese melted and gooey, and just the right ratio of meat to bread to veggies to make each bite a pleasure. All the sandwiches are served with fresh-cut fries — a little extra touch from a restaurant taking the time to do things right.

These deli classics keep Iacofano's high on the list of great local joints, and, for my money, the new dinner entrées are a welcome addition. As the days shorten and the temperatures turn cool, you need a favorite little place around the corner where you can duck in for a glass of red wine and some warm comfort food. Iacofano's Bar & Grill fits the bill nicely.

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