Especially after kids, my husband and I aren’t big on social graces. But we recently stepped on out to a local white-table-clothed oasis — Villaggio Ristorante & Bar. Why? Because we had a babysitter (read: a visiting grandma). And because adults should not be expected to live on bottled beer specials and fried pickles alone.
Some background: The Villaggio is located inside one of downtown Pinehurst’s most iconic and historic hotels, the circa-1895 Magnolia Inn. Pinehurst Resort purchased the Inn and the restaurant last fall from Ron and Julie Milton, keeping all the staff in place but bringing in Ethan Gross as GM.
Plush chairs? Check. Candlelight? Check. Italian food prepared just for my husband and I to have our own Lady and the Tramp moment? If this does not live up to Thomas Montgomery Haverford’s vision of “treat yo’ self,” I don’t know what does. I’m glad it was raining, otherwise we probably would have chosen patio seating — which is also very nice but doesn’t quite warrant the question, “oh you fancy, huh?”
We made a reservation for the oh-so-romantic date of Wednesday night, and arrived early because well, who wouldn’t? We checked in and headed through the hallway of the historic mansion to a bar that Ron Burgundy would be proud of.
Bartender Kat whipped us up an Aviation — like a typical Virgo, I have become very fond of gin — and a Perfect Storm, a recipe with rum, ginger liqueur and a splash of seltzer she said Ethan brought with him to the Villaggio, one which I’ll be trying to recreate at home like, yesterday.
The host came to find us and let us know our table was ready. It’s been awhile since we had something other than a buzzer to let us know it was time to take our seat. Hell, it’s been awhile since anyone came to find us for any purpose other than wiping something up. Did we mention the trash goes out way more than we do?
Our drinks were — as the youths say — hitting. So when our server, Michael, came to greet us, we were primed to hear his suggestions.
“Not to be basic, but our chicken parm is really, really good,” he said. “Our bolognese sauce is made in-house, so anything with that is solid. Our lasagna is also the best around. My dark horse, though, is the duck. No one thinks duck when they think of an Italian restaurant, but ours literally melts in your mouth.”
We were sold — on the lasagna and the duck. But first? Cheesy rosettis brought to the table by Ethan himself. I, being on the culinary level of a child, could make a meal out of these. A woman at the table behind us declined the same offer, saying “I’m drinking my appetizer.” I felt that in my soul.
With our order in, we settled back into the tufted upholstery and watched as servers appeared Matrix-like, delivering drinks and arranging plates and silverware to keep tables orderly. They all said “my pleasure,” which I normally only hear once a week in a certain drive thru. We wondered if we were saying “thank you” too much.
But mostly, we just enjoyed it, sipping an old fashioned and bubbly “botanical” (grapefruit and rosé vodka + prosecco) while marveling at how far we’ve come from drinking our signature college cocktail, Dr. Jägermint, in the dorms at ECU.
“Hey,” my always-classy significant other asked, “you think if I don’t finish my duck, they’ll wrap it up in tinfoil and make it into the shape of a duck?”
And then, the food arrived. And it was good.
The lasagna? You could slice through it like butter. BUTTER. The fluffy bechamel cheese was just the icing on the pasta cake. I took a bite and tried to describe it, but just gestured wildly. My hand turned into a replica of the pinched fingers emoji. Yes, I became 100-percent authentic Italian.
And the duck? Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. According to my husband. I wasn’t allowed to try any, because he immediately declared “it’s like a Thanksgiving, that’s just for me,” and slapped my hand away when I reached for a bit of crispy skin.
We never found out if they wrapped up leftovers in the shape of an animal. Because there weren’t any. We didn’t have room for dessert, but we’re not quitters. So we ordered the tiramisu.
“I’m not even going to ask if that’s good, because I know the answer,” Michael said as we scraped the plate. Michael was obviously feeling a little cocky at this point. But I’m not complaining. He was right.
We finished up the night like it started: with more drinks. And because dessert wasn’t enough for my sweet tooth, Cat merged two of her recipes together to create a chocolate-espresso martini. I’d need all the energy I could get for the kids’ inevitable second wind before bed.
This piece was produced in partnership with Pinehurst Resort. View the Villaggio’s menu here.