If you’ve dreamed of visiting southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast but are limited by time and money, stop by Limoncello Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar in St. Michaels to curb your classic Italian cravings.
Located on the northern coast of the Salerno Gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Italy, the Amalfi Coast is rich in abundance of offerings from the sea — much like Limoncello.
Billy Gordon, district manager of Five Star Restaurant Development and Consulting, which owns Limoncello and about 20 other restaurant concepts, said the restaurant pays homage to classic offerings from southern Italy. Co-owner and Executive Chef Gennaro DiBenedetto said the restaurant features a “bona fide wish list of Italian coastal specialties, featuring an array of mouth-watering pasta, fresh seafood, chargrilled flatbread and more, all crafted by experienced chefs.”
DiBenedetto said he and business partner Ivano Scotto learned about the art of the Italian meal firsthand.
“The story goes way back to the ‘80s, on the streets just outside of Naples, Italy. It is there that we were infused with the skills for creative, yet classic, preparation and craftsmanship of a great Italian meal — and an overall experience that leaves you happy and content,” DiBenedetto said.
Gordon said a staple of the Amalfi Coast and its cuisine is polipo panzanella, a blend of grilled octopus, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, red onion, olives, capers and croutons. The octopus was fresh and tender, with an almost smoky flavor that nicely complimented the salad, which was full of a wide variety of flavors.
Typical panzanella is a popular summer dish in central Italy — a chopped salad with a light dressing of olive oil and vinegar. The octopus packs a subtle, flavorful punch, which sounds like an oxymoron, but you’ll have to taste it for yourself to understand. The salad was perfect as an appetizer, not too heavy as to defeat your dreams of digging deeper into the Limoncello menu.
Speaking of digging deeper, try another southern Italian classic, which you can find on the Limoncello menu as a second plate option: the branzino con escarole a dish which, if based solely on visual presentation, is definitely understated. One taste, and you’ll know why. Caught along the Amalfi Coast, the Mediterranean striped sea bass is a subtle white fish that really takes on the flavor of the items it’s cooked with. It is pan-seared, with crispy skin, extra-virgin olive oil and a white wine flambé. It’s served with escarole, cannellini beans and rosemary potatoes.
The fish is fresh, flaky and the entire dish has a downhome, seaside, cozy feel to it. It fills you up, but not in a heavy way. This southern Italian staple tastes almost buttery and the potatoes are perfectly crispy— a nice addition to the flaky fish.
Gordon said these two items aren’t the only traditional southern Italian offerings on the menu, and Limoncello offers a number of classic dishes, including antipasti such as a prosciutto-and-melon salad, fried calamari and bruschetta; fresh salad options, one with a unique blend of arugula, blood orange, toasted pistachios, olives, fennel, pomegranate seeds and lemon vinaigrette. There also are several pizza options; gnocchi, risotto and pasta options, like a seafood risotto blend of clams, octopus, mussels, calamari, shrimp, crab meat and cherry tomatoes; and entrees like the branzino con escarole, a Tuscan seafood stew and veal, chicken and steak options, as well.
In addition to the inside table and bar seating, the restaurant also offers covered outside seating during nice weather at the back of the restaurant and sidewalk seating in front of the main entrance to the restaurant. The restaurant is open for lunch or dinner, dine-in or take-out, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant also houses a curated wine list and according to DiBenedetto, “enough housemade limoncello to make all of southern Italy content.”