Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Della Terra Italian Bistro, Zelienople: An Unlikely Location for a Great Meal

     Five miles down the road, in my humble opinion, is a perfect example of a small American town.  Driving down Main Street, you will not find a Home Depot or a Lowe's.  There is no Pizza Hut or a Starbucks.  There is Rich, the 84 year old barber who cuts Dear Husband's hair.  There is Zach and his wife, who have opened a small brewpub.    A block or so away is the American Legion, where upon entering, you are immediately welcomed.  On subsequent treelined streets, you will find children who still play outside, neighbors walking dogs or strolling into town for a bite to eat.  In the four months since we moved to the area, the town has had three festivals.  For the 4th of July, donation cans are placed around town so that members of the community could donate to the Fireworks fund and each year, the organizers find a donation of a gold coin, which ends up funding most of the cost.  The annual parade was almost two hours in length this year and I think that every firetruck within a twenty mile radius participated.  The community park was transformed into a gigantic picnic with duck races in the community pool and the local philharmonic orchestra provided the necessary 1812 Overture.  In this small town of under 4,000 residents, there is a very strong sense of community.  Needless to say, our travels take us in that direction more often than not.
     Across the creek and outside of town lies a very unassuming strip mall housing the local Sears.  I had read that there was also a great Italian restaurant in this unlikely location.  As we continue to explore the area, we decided to give this place a try.  On a Tuesday evening, it was relatively quiet and for us, that was a good thing.  More and more, the noise levels of restaurants interfere with my dining experience.  Ugh...I am getting old.
     We learn from the friendly waiter that Della Terra means "Of the Earth."  I overhear him tell a neighboring table that they make nearly everything in-house and most of the ingredients are locally sourced.  Good sign.  The interior is homey without being cluttered.  A long bar secures one wall with seating for about ten.  Square tables complete the room.  In the corner near the kitchen is a huge pizza oven, which I secretly wish belonged to me.  (Of course, where would I put it?)  The menu is short, which, to me, is also another good sign.  There is a nice selection of Italian wines by the glass or bottle.  We settle in feeling the blush of a good meal about to arrive.
     There is an option to have a three, four or five course meal.  It is tempting but none of us want that much food.  We settle on a shared appetizer, a pizza that Dear Husband and I will share and a pasta dish for Dear Daughter.  Now, it is time to admit, that pizza is one of my favorite foods.  I even love it the next day for breakfast.  Before living in Europe, I made some pretty decent pizzas but I have lost my mojo.  We rarely go out for pizza and I now rarely make pizza...so I rarely get to eat pizza.  Here was my chance.
     In most places in Europe, pizza comes in one size - basically for one person.  That isn't to say that they are small.  I actually think that one pizza could feed two people, which is what we normally ordered.  In Europe as well, the pizza arrives on a large plate, unsliced.  The diner uses a fork and knife and does not pick up the pizza with their hands.  If you watch anyone in my family eat pizza, they do it the same way.
     Our appetizer arrives - three Arancini balls dusted with Parmesan cheese.  Arancini are basically fried risotto balls and these were delicious.  Crunchy on the outside with creamy risotto on the inside.  The dusting of Parmesan added another texture and flavor.  Dear Husband and I split the Pizza di Parma.  If I ordered pizza in Europe, this is the one I ordered.  If I make pizza at home, this is the one I make.  On the dough, prosciutto di Parma is scattered over mozzarella and then cooked.  Just before it hits the table, baby arugula and shavings of grand padana are generously added to the pie with a little olive oil.  I love the flavors of the peppery arugula mixed with the cheeses and prosciutto and this pizza did not disappoint.  Dear Daughter discovered gnocchi in Rome so she was thrilled to see it on the menu.  It was a delicate ricotta gnocchi with cream, poppyseed, prosciutto and fava beans.  Dear Husband and I were able to get one bite each before it disappeared.
     I learn that the chef is a native of the greater metropolitan area and has worked at some well known restaurants in the city.  Five years ago, he decided that he wanted to open up a gourmet burger place, where the meat would be locally sourced.  He landed in this small town because of its proximity to the producers and farmers.  After much praise over the burger place, he opened Della Terra next door focusing on seasonal pasta and handmade pizzas and sauces.  We are glad that he did
     Our bag of veggies from our CSA shipment this week was heavy with vegetables:  new red potatoes, green beans, green peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, kale and spaghetti squash!  With the hot and humid weather, the cilantro will be great is some cool Vietnamese spring rolls.  The cucumbers will be mixed together with some watermelon, red onion and feta cheese for a refreshing salad.  I have to think a bit about the kale and squash.  I have made one kale dish thus far and will want to try a new one.  There is no rush on the squash so I will wait for the weather to break a bit before roasting it.  As for the potatoes and green beans...they will be the stars of my favorite summer salad.   I will tell you all about it on Thursday.


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