“Hey, want to go to Italy this weekend?”
My blushing bride many years ago had been with me just long enough to know that I like to tease but not long enough yet to know better and cause her to wonder. Might I just be crazy enough to up and hop a plane to Europe? May be.
We were back in the hometown but she was new to the area, and I had heard that Sunny Italy was still around.
So I explained about this little restaurant that I had known as a teenager that was out in the country and featured a little granny woman at the counter just like at an Italian place back in her hometown. Oh, and there’s the best creamy salad dressing this side of Tuscany. I was looking for a Saturday night out that would impress.
Long before Theo’s, Olive Garden and others’ Italian fare spread around, Sunny Italy served as our introduction to foreign, Italian cuisine. John and Daisy Roselli ran the restaurant from 1966 to 2010 next to their home on this side of North Wilkesboro via Highway 268.
Young people took dates to Sunny Italy when a burger joint just wouldn’t do. It was far enough away to be exotic but close enough so that your and her folks wouldn’t worry (much).
Sunny Italy was one of those little niche restaurants that you hear about by word of mouth and need directions. The search for such an out-of-the-way place builds anticipation as well as appetite. The Depot Restaurant near Dobson is another that comes to mind.
I knew one of the Roselli boys in school, also named John, who was an item back then with a distant cousin of mine. He was a free spirit of the times.
Later John caught the entrepreneurial spirit. He helped resurrect memories of Sunny Italy in 2012 by marketing for grocery stores a line of Granny Roselli foods, starting with bottles of that dreamy, creamy Italian salad dressing from a homemade recipe that Granny would not reveal except in her will.
Now John, who once had a restaurant of his own in downtown North Wilkesboro, says he is looking at bringing back to us Sunny Italy. “We feel it will be a great success if we can get it all together,” he wrote me.
Look for Sunny Italy The Next Generation restaurant in North Wilkesboro as soon as March, John said. There’s no word on whether the old TV show theme song of Star Trek: The Next Generation will be involved.
Internet reaction to the news was immediate. For instance: “So many great family memories there. We would all love to come back!” one fan wrote.
The Roselli story almost was as good as Sunny Italy’s food. TV and print media around the state featured the story over the years.
The grandfather immigrated to New York City from Italy. The father found his way to Wilkes County and married a local girl. When the father realized he was not going to be a farmer, he turned to what he knew: Italian cooking. He converted his farm into a restaurant.
Do not confuse Sunny Italy with Olive Garden or that ilk. One time I went to a little hole-in-the- wall restaurant near Charlotte that also advertised as authentic Italian.
That restaurant, called Angie’s, was founded by a little Italian woman who ran the counter. Angie the owner struck me as being so much like Daisy Roselli back home at Sunny Italy.
The food at Angie’s, which no longer exists, was the same as well. The spaghetti noodles were thick just like at Sunny Italy and ditto for the pasta sauce, sweeter than the marinara we’re used to elsewhere. The identicalities convinced me that Sunny Italy was indeed authentic Italian.
Since my dream of spending a summer in Italy is evaporating with age, it looks like I’m going to have to settle instead for an evening at Sunny Italy The Next Generation.
Not a bad consolidation prize. I’m pulling for John to pull it off. Ciao.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.