George

This is going to save us a lot of money. We no longer have to travel to Italy to enjoy that country. Jennifer Bergeron and Jonathan Rosenbloom have brought Italy to Maine, with a great new restaurant in Waterville.

Late last year, Jennifer purchased Napoli’s Market, and has now added their restaurant, Itali-ah. Jennifer says the name demonstrates that they are Italian, but with a Maine accent.

Jonathan lived and cooked in Italy for 20 years and brings that all home to both the market and the restaurant. Even the kitchen came from Italy, including a wood-fired artisan oven handmade in Naples.

Jonathan chose our wine after we told him what we like, and he was correct: We loved the Brancaia Tre Rosso Toscano he recommended. It represents three Tuscan estates, with sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes. They also have some of our favorite wines from wineries we’ve visited in Tuscany.

But what really blew me away was their pappardelle al cinghiale, a wild boar and pappardelle pasta dish, my very favorite. I’ve been known to enjoy 8 or 10 wild boar dinners during a two-week trip to Tuscany. And Itali-ah’s wild boar dish is right up there with the best: lots of meat, a tasty sauce and perfectly cooked housemade pasta.

Jennifer and Jonathan had just spent a couple weeks in Italy (partly to select new products for their market and restaurant), and they visited several of our favorite places in Tuscany, including Greve, which is their favorite village and our favorite, too.

Linda

When I first heard the name Itali-ah, I thought, how appropriate. Italy…aahhh, my feelings exactly.

In the Italian market in the back, you will find a fine selection of Italian wine, olive oil and other Italian goodies. I was intrigued when I saw the deli case filled with cured Italian meat and beautiful cheese. And, sure enough, when I searched I found pecorino cheese from Tuscany. This is a hard one to track down, so I am very excited to have a local source.

After visiting with Jonathan and Jennifer, it was clear that they know Italy. And they are representing different regions of the country’s cuisine on their menu. Just reading the menu takes me back to Italy. There is wonderful variety in the soups, pasta and meat dishes, which makes the sampling of the true tastes of Italy possible here in Maine.

The house-baked pane toscano dipped in olive oil is heavenly. I’d come with a plan in mind: fresh pasta and gelato — both handmade right here. So we skipped an appetizer and just ordered our favorite pasta dishes, just as we would in Greve.

Although I was torn with mouth-watering choices of lasagna with duck ragu, risotto and a couple of eggplant dishes, I found myself drawn to tagliatelle with bolognese ragu, my favorite.

This is Tuscany on a plate for me. The freshly prepared pasta noodles were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was certainly authentic. An Italian ragu is very different from an American pasta sauce. They put a lot of meat in it, and it does not rely on a strong tomato flavor like ours.

I looked at George and the grin on his face told me he was in cinghiale heaven. I savored every bite of my dish, but there was no way to finish the large serving and have room for gelato. I had leftovers while George cleaned his plate. This was going to be an issue when I tried to have my leftovers at home.

They also serve vera pizza napoletana, baked in their wood-fired oven. The menu details what this pizza really is and how it is eaten in Italy. The 14-inch pies are usually not sliced, and meant to be eaten with a fork and knife. Every offering was tempting, and it would be hard for me to choose between them. I guess many upcoming visits will be in order.

Gelato is a big deal in Italy. So imagine how happy I was when I read online that they make their own gelato artigianle right here. Small cups of combinations of flavors are how we have experienced gelato.

We ordered fragola (strawberry) and chocolate. Happily, they do not believe in the small cup portions of Italy, and we finished our amazing meal by splitting the large serving of creamy, intense flavors of real gelato. Can you tell how happy I am that they are here?

Don’t Miss Gardens Aglow

Last week, we enjoyed a don’t-miss event, Gardens Aglow at the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. More than 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights decorate their central gardens and buildings — an amazing sight. You can order tickets on their website or buy them when you arrive. The event runs through Dec. 31. Don’t miss this!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.