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Chef/proprietor Jimmy Pronesti landed in the culinary world in a roundabout way.
He grew up in the south side of Pittsburgh and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992 with a degree in criminal justice. He and some buddies often came to Myrtle Beach for long weekends, and Pronesti decided he wanted to move to the Grand Strand.
After working a while in retail, he became acquainted with property owners who encouraged Pronesti to open a restaurant in one of their new strip malls.
"I was young and naive," Pronesti says, "so I figured 'What the heck?' How hard could it be?"
So the restaurant newbie opened Bella Napoli in 2002 at the intersection of S.C. 544 and Big Block Road in the Socastee area of Horry County, and quickly learned restaurant ownership is quite difficult. He also learned to cook, and he cooked a lot until selling Bella Napoli in 2008.
Pronesti's significant other, Amber Griffin, helped run Bella Napoli and continues to assist evenings at Caffe Piccolo after working full days as a food and beverage manager at a Myrtle Beach oceanfront resort.
Caffe Piccolo may be small, but Pronesti remodeled to maximize the space so diners don't feel crowded. It's in the spot adjoining the To Your Health market, where Chive Blossom restaurant was located before it moved to a larger building up the road.
Inside, walls are a warm and earthy mustard color with an accent wall dressed in medium brown beadboard paneling. The bar top and front are crusted in mosaic tiles that pick up and accent the color scheme.
Yellow votives cast glows on white linen tablecloths, and black linen napkins are rolled to encase the cutlery. Framed black and white photography and thoughtfully placed dried flower arrangements comprise a modern-yet-rustic tableau.
It was raining when I visited, but an al fresco dining area surrounded by live plants looks like a promising spot for romantic tête-à-têtes. Although the restaurant had open only for one week, the inside dining room turned several tables during my two-hour stay, and the cheerful black-clad servers were busy.
The chef will come out to the dining room to say hello if he has a chance.
What's to eat
If you like scallops, the ones Pronesti uses are large, plump and scintillatingly sweet dry-packed scallops from New Bedford, Mass. You can have them as an appetizer, seared and served with bacon, wilted arugula and bean puree; or as an entree with pappardelle pasta, shiitake mushrooms, arugula, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese and a white truffle oil drizzle.
Other appetizers include Crab Cakes with avocado salsa; Calamari sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and served in marinara; Salmon Carpaccio; and Mozzarella Caprese. House salads are prepared with a variety of greens, thin and wide carrot curls, grape tomatoes, purple onion rings and prettily turned cucumber slices, and two dressings are available: Creamy gorgonzola and Italian vinaigrette.
Two other salads are Fennel and Orange with red onion, brined black olives and citrus mint vinaigrette; and Arugula and Fried Gorgonzola with lemon vinaigrette. These can be topped with chicken or shrimp.
Entrees are classic Italian recipes including Shrimp Marinara, Shrimp Fra Diavolo, Shrimp Scampi, pasta with calamari, clams, shrimp or mussels; Fettuccine with Smoked Salmon in brandy cream sauce; Penne Puttanesca; Penne with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe; and chicken or veal prepared in classic Italian methods of Piccata, Marsala, Francese or Sorrentino.
Three entree specials were on the board: Veal Gorgonzola with sautéed spinach and sun-dried tomatoes; Seared Scallops in citrus mint sauce; and Chicken Milanese topped with arugula salad.
Many of the same appetizers and salads are available for lunch, and you can also get panini. The menu lists each one as a panino, and Pronesti explains that's the accurate singular term for one of the pressed sandwiches. The plural is panini, so if you hear someone say paninis, that's incorrect.
The Panini at Caffe Piccolo have fillings such as basil pesto, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, marinated tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olive/artichoke tapenade, portabello mushrooms, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, cappicola, sopressata and lemon-dill aioli.
Desserts are not made in-house, but they're prepared locally and are quite luscious. We enjoyed sharing Tiramisu, Chocolate Chip Cannoli (Pronesti makes the filling) and Chocolate Mousse Cake.
Where: 9428 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island
Noise Level: Sultry jazz plays a click or two above soft; spirited conversations are a gentle overlay.
Vegetarian Options: Mozzarella Caprese, Fennel and Orange Salad, Arugula and Fried Gorgonzola Salad, Penne alla Vodka with Absolut Peppar sauce, and Panino Margherita.
Smoking: Only allowed outside.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close, Mondays through Saturdays
Prices: Dinner appetizers are $9-$13; Salads $7-$8; Entrees $14-$23, Lunch sandwiches $7.50-$9.50.
Check for Two: Lunch for two with non-alcoholic beverages would be about $20, plus tax and tip. One dinner appetizer, two entrees and one dessert is about $55.
Note: the ABC license is coming soon.
Chop Chop at Frank's
Frank's Restaurant at 10434 Ocean Highway in Pawleys Island has added a chophouse section to its menu. USDA Prime cuts include 1 10-ounce barrel cut filet, 34-ounce porterhouse and 10-ounce ribeye. Traditional steakhouse sauces and side dishes are also served. Reservations may be made by calling 237-3030.
Two Month Run
Tailgator's, which opened in July at 251 Willbrook Blvd. in the Mingo development in Pawleys Island, closed on Sept. 20. Partners John Russell and Dan O'Neill had a menu full of tasty appetizers, sandwiches and entrees prepared by their executive chef, Ty Hulsey.
Local media personality Diane DeVaughn Stokes has a new radio show called Diane at Six on WEZV Easy 105.9 and Easy 94.5 from 6-7 p.m. weeknights. In October she is featuring easy soup recipes, and she is asking area chefs to, "...send me their best recipe so I can feature them on my show and brag about their restaurants. At the end of the month we will put all the recipes into a soup bowl and six lucky winners will win two tickets to the Carolina Opry Christmas Show. They can e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org." The first 21 recipes received will be featured.
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