Each month at our local Chef’s Table, we expect the chef or chefs to surprise us. It’s kind of what we challenge the team in the kitchen to do.
Working on something for the menu? Use us as your focus group. Want to change a diner’s perception of a particular food? “Dish it up,” as we say.
When I reached out to Mozzarella Fellas for our June table, I knew they’d surprise us. But what we didn’t realize was coming was a total 180 degree-way of approaching the eats coming out of the kitchen at this super popular Italian restaurant.
Mozzarella Fellas just celebrated its first birthday and has already achieved high marks for its pasta, pizza and exemplary service (they’re just sooo nice. It is actually a pleasure to be in their presence). So, when I asked if they’d like to be our featured restaurant they jumped at the chance because that’s just how these guys are, they rise to any challenge.
For sure, Mozzarella Fellas has the best pizza I’ve had in the city and beats more established pizza joints. The pizza is innovative and topped with the freshest ingredients. Try the Siciliano or a traditional slice of cheese pizza; it’s as big as your head times two.
The mozzarella is made fresh and the bacon and ham are all cured in house. They also source local ingredients whenever possible. When folks wondered about our Chef’s Table at a restaurant that wasn’t some upscale dining establishment, I got some questions…
“Will it be a pizza party?”
“No way!” the Fellas said.
“Is it going to be full of carbs and pasta and cheese?”
“Not the way you think,” the Fellas replied
The Fellas are Brian Ricciardi and Darrell Coltrane. Ricciardi, who’s Italian, vegan and gluten-free, grew up learning from his Italian grandmother and in Italian restaurants. Coltrane is a military brat who spent part of his childhood in Sicily. There, he fell in love with the way of life and the kitchen but he’s originally from the area and has a southern grandmother. These two business partners came together with ideas on how to bring the best they know in Italian food with some Southern influences and at the same time, be the go-to restaurant for folks who have food restrictions, self-imposed or not.
Our entire menu at our Chef’s Table was definitely a surprise. At this Italian restaurant full of pasta and bread and pizza dough, the menu was completely gluten-free and two of the five courses were vegan.
Let’s take a look:
Jackfruit in a house-made BBQ sauce with peppers.
Jackfruit is southeast Asian fruit that in this application, resembles pulled pork. This dish had everyone shaking their head that it wasn’t BBQ, as it had the same texture and feel. The tangy peppers contrasted nicely with the light, sweet and spicy sauce. That’s right, we had Vegan BBQ. The dish itself isn’t on the menu specifically but they do offer a jackfruit pizza, which I’m now dying to try.
Mozzarella Fellas Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and Fair Share Farm squash blossoms
This salad, with the Fellas’ fresh, in-house mozzarella, was a bright and beautiful hit. The squash blossoms were a special touch for the night (I love squash blossoms and really would’ve liked a few more scattered among the basil chiffonade). The pickled onions and the balsamic glaze added a tart and tangy component.
Vegan mac and cheese with broccoli rabe
You read that right. Vegan “mac and cheese.”
How, you ask? The “cheese” is made from cashews, filtered water, nutritional yeast, some salt, and butter beans add some thickness. The “Mac” was red lentil pasta, which is purely vegan and gluten-free. It had the texture and taste of a sharp mac and cheese. I wouldn’t say it’s a direct comparison, but if you can’t have dairy or gluten and you miss that dish in your life, this is the place to get it. Ricciardi said this is something he makes at home and Coltrane said it’ll make you a believer. We agreed.
Southern chickpea-fried chicken cutlet with collard greens and polenta cake
This was the most Southern item on the menu and quite the departure from what you’d expect at an Italian restaurant. The chicken cutlet was coated in chickpea flour and was incredibly crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Several folks commented that it was crispier than a traditionally fried cutlet. The collards were cooked with house-cured ham and house-cured bacon (cured without smoke in the Italian way). This was a huge hit among the guests of the evening.
Endive stuffed with goat cheese, raspberries and candied nuts
Endive for dessert?
Coltrane told the group, “growing up in Sicily, they’d sell chocolate coated endive in the markets. It was crispy and cool so this was a spin off that.”
It was tasty and was like a little dessert salad. A very, very different and refreshing twist on dessert.
So, as you can see, it wasn’t all pizza and cannoli. Nary a one in sight (though I did see a guest jump on the opportunity to order a cannoli, and you should too, it’s delicious). Triad Local First executive director Luck Davidson was a guest and told me,
“It has all been really surprising, but in such a good way.”
Coltrane and Ricciardi both wanted to share with our group and hope to get the word out that they are more than just an Italian restaurant. They said they want to be a space people can come to for healthy options as well as warm, comforting pizza and pasta.
My husband, for one, loves the All Chopped Up salad.
“I get it with extra meat and cheese,” he said. “But it’s their house Italian dressing that makes it so good. It’s the best.”
If you love mushrooms, we invite you to try the mushroom calamari, which looks and tastes like calamari but is completely vegan.
The Fellas said they appreciate the past year and the support that they’ve received and that they will continue to broaden the perceptions of what an Italian restaurant can be, especially by adding more gluten-free options as well as vegetarian and vegan choices as long as there is a demand for it.
“We want people to enjoy what they want to enjoy, but in a healthy way,” Ricciardi said.
But you can also have dessert and pizza.
Wanna Go? Mozzarella Fellas is located at 336 Summit Square Blvd, Winston-Salem. Open Sunday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.