Chicken uffizi (below), sautéed with prosciutto ham, topped with melted mozzarella and fresh pesto and rounded out in a delicate white wine over a bed of angel hair pasta with garlic and olive oil.
It’s difficult to make it in the restaurant business for two years—let alone 30. But that’s exactly what Casa Rustica, an Italian- American restaurant in Boone, N.C., owned by Rick and Elizabeth Pedroni, has accomplished. Founded in 1981 by Rick’s father, Peter, the restaurant will celebrate three decades next year.
Peter Pedroni was raised in Cannobio, a village located in the Lakes Region of northern Italy, close to the border with Switzerland. Peter’s mother, Pina, still resides there. Peter and his wife, Sara, moved their family to Boone from Florida, and in December 1981 they opened a family restaurant built on the foundation of Pina’s original recipes.
“A lot of the recipes originated in Italy with my family,” Rick said.
Casa Rustica’s sauces, meatballs and delicate method of hand-rolling noodles are all passed down from Pina’s kitchen. Some recipes are more than 100 years old. Casa Rustica’s barn-shaped building contributes to its “rustic” ambience, and inside, the restaurant has the look of a cabin, with dark log walls, exposed ceiling beams and a fireplace.
Rick and his sister Laura spent many nights helping their parents in the restaurant and at home. “I grew up cooking with my father,” Rick said, noting that he started cooking at 7 years of age.
“His dad has been his mentor in cooking and in business,” Elizabeth added.
After nearly 20 years in the business, Peter and Sara decided to retire, and Rick assumed ownership of the restaurant in 2000. Rick has added his own touches to the restaurant, including new menu items and improved ingredients such as free-range beef. Chef Hunter Bowling skillfully executes the restaurant’s Italian family recipes while developing his own creations for Casa Rustica’s nightly specials.
“We try everything 10 times before we ever change anything,” Rick said. “The little things are what we believe in.”
The Casa Rustica philosophy is consistency in good quality and good service. Ample portions, fresh ingredients and affordable prices are important, too. “We feel we’re serving four- or five-star meals at a three-star price,” Rick said.
An “Italian-American” menu allows for a wide range of menu items—Casa Rustica is much more than pasta. Shrimp, scallops, veal, vegetarian dishes and gluten-free products are among the restaurant’s varied selections, along with what Rick calls its best-kept secret: USDA Choice, free-range, hand-cut and aged-in-house steaks.
Popular favorites include the spinach lasagna, with its thin and delicate hand-rolled noodles. A staff favorite is the chicken or veal saltimbocca piemontese, which is sautéed with prosciutto ham, topped with melted mozzarella and rounded out in a delicate white wine. A variation on this dish, chicken uffizi, throws fresh pesto into the mix, all served over a bed of angel hair pasta with garlic and olive oil.
The menu features many traditional Italian dishes as well, including chicken or veal marsala, chicken or veal francese, eggplant parmesan, shrimp scampi, spaghetti and ravioli. There also is a children’s menu.
Consider one of Bowling’s appetizer specials, such as prosciutto- and rainbow chard-wrapped shrimp with goat cheese and roasted red peppers, finished with a lemon basil beurre blanc. And save room for homemade dessert. The restaurant’s tiramisu is a little different than most, says Elizabeth—it’s not layered. The confection is created with two ladyfingers soaked in espresso with chocolate pudding and cream on top. The zabaglione is a traditional Italian lemon custard with marsala wine served warm with whipped cream, lemon and sugar. “It cleanses the palate; it’s light, not heavy,” noted Elizabeth.
The restaurant features a full wine list and a full bar, as well as espresso drinks.
Live music enhances Casa Rustica’s cozy and romantic dining atmosphere, with jazz duo Todd Wright and Andy Page performing every Thursday evening and classical guitarist Justin Butler featured each Sunday.
Ultimately, Rick believes the restaurant’s focus on consistency is responsible for its three decades of success—not only in quality and service, but also because the restaurant is open seven nights a week and doesn’t close in the winter.
“You make people feel like they can rely on you,” he said. “People want consistency, you know, and that’s what we give them.”
Casa Rustica is located at 1348 Highway 105 South in Boone and opens at 5 p.m. nightly. For more information, call 828.262.5128 or visit the restaurant’s website at www.casarustica1981.com.