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Summerville welcomes La Rustica, a restaurant with roots in Seattle and Italy

SUMMERVILLE — It’s easy to get lost in a bowl of pasta, especially when the dough was hand-rolled hours earlier.

The Italian cuisine category has that uncanny ability to make one feel at ease — there is a reason pasta is an adored comfort food.

Easing into a soft green, high-top chair at La Rustica, which opened a month ago in Summerville, this sensation began to sink in when a plate of house-made cannelloni was placed on the copper bar in front of me.

Stuffed with ground veal, beef and chicken, the baked pasta was smothered in marinara and mozzarella. A server promptly stopped by to shower the dish in even more cheese.

The lively atmosphere around me faded into the background as I tugged at my fork for the first few bites. As I ate, I could think of nothing else but the collision of béchamel-thickened tomato sauce, nutty Parmesan, creamy mozzarella cheeses and tender pasta.

Pulling up to the white wood-paneled house that La Rustica calls home, it would be reasonable to expect to find Southern staples on the menu, though it’s a fitting setting for this family-owned restaurant.

La Rustica’s story begins in Patrica, Italy, and passes through Seattle before landing in Summerville. Co-owner Giulio Pellegrini was born and raised in that small town near Rome before moving to the United States in 1965 and meeting his wife Janie in Michigan. The couple eventually settled in Seattle, where they opened an Italian restaurant in 1984, later moving on from that first venture to open La Rustica Seattle in 1996.

The quaint establishment quickly became a local hit. 

Seattle Times reporter Carol Pucci in 1996 wrote that, “The little blue clapboard restaurant nestled on the corner, with a sweeping view of the Puget Sound, reminded me of the neighborhood trattorias I found while hiking through coastal villages in Italy.” 

La Rustica Seattle went on to enjoy decades of success, but it was eventually time for a change, said the couple’s daughter, Aimee Pellegrini, who grew up cooking with her parents.

In 2020, the Pellegrinis sold La Rustica to a new owner, packed their bags and moved to Summerville, opening a restaurant with the same name at 315 N. Magnolia St. in October.

“We wanted a different lifestyle, and we happened to find Summerville by chance really,” said Aimee Pellegrini, La Rustica’s general manager. “It’s a really special place, and the people that we get to serve, it feels like a dream. It’s a real community, which is something we missed very much.”

Finding and renovating the space took longer than anticipated, leading Aimee Pellegrini and her husband Hector Arroyo to open a food truck called El Capricho in the interim. Once La Rustica opened, Arroyo joined Aimee’s father in the kitchen, though the couple still operates the truck.

Summerville diners have flocked to La Rustica since its opening. On a Friday in early November, the wraparound porch and dining room were filled until 9:30 p.m., when espresso martinis were still being summoned from the bar.

I sipped on a house barrel-aged smoked old fashioned, watching bowls of pasta — bucatini, fettuccine alla carbonara, manicotti — and plates of chicken parmesan, burrata and bacon-wrapped shrimp scampi land on tables across the dining room.

La Rustica’s story begins in Patrica, Italy, and passes through Seattle before landing in Summerville.

Many of these dishes, including that warm cannelloni sitting in front of me, honor recipes Giulio Pellegrini learned from his parents back in Italy.

“He (isn’t) just Italian, he really is a chef,” Aimee Pelligrini said. Giulio, Janie, Aimee, Hector and their children, Annina and Valentin, all live together in one big family home. “Our family was always food-oriented and caring very deeply about the food on the table.”

The Pelligrinis' passion shows at La Rustica, where pasta is served on the side of meat and fish entrées. My server raved about one of the night’s specials, wild boar osso buco, but with the taste of the cannelloni still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but order pasta again on my second visit.

La Rustica’s Bucatini Amatricana with onions and pancetta is cooked the way it is back in Giulio’s hometown. Slender spaghetti-shaped noodles maintain a touch of bite, indicating house-made pasta that was cooked just right. A spicy tomato sauce is thin in stature but strong in taste, with heat that hits after a short delay. Bits of pancetta curl into chunks of tomato, pooling at the bottom of the bowl — snag a piece of sliced garlic bread in the basket next to you and scoop up that extra sauce.

“While it is fairly simple, it takes the right kind of hand to make it right,” Aimee Pelligrini said of her father’s bucatini.

Blocks away from La Rustica, Nico Romo’s Italian restaurant Laura specializes in elevated takes on family recipes, such as casarecce “Laura Bolognese” (braised beef, pork belly and Italian sausage with peas and parmesan), agnolotti in brown sage butter, cacio e pepe bucatini and lasagna a la “Laura,” an early favorite among Summerville diners since the restaurant opened in June. Laura also serves Neapolitan pizzas that are cooked in a custom-made wood-fired oven.

I opted for a second trip to La Rustica over a first to Laura, a choice some other diners have recently made, I overheard at the bar while waiting for a table. Laura was no worse for the wear — its bright lights spotlighted diners entering and departing the bustling restaurant when I drove by earlier.

Summerville has evidently made room for multiple high-quality dining venues, even if they both specialize in classic Italian.

“We’re just beginning now to have some finer dining establishments. I say, well, there’s room for us all here,” Aimee Pellegrini said. “The people that are living here are hungry for great food.”

Enjoying desserts made daily by the restaurant’s matriarch Janie is the best way to finish your meal at La Rustica. The bite-sized cannolis feature a creamy filling wrapped in a shatteringly crisp shell fried fresh in-house. 

The tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert that at La Rustica should not be missed, is showered in cinnamon, coating a whipped filling that feels weightless on a fork.

It’s a bite worth coming back for, though that can be said for most of what I have eaten at La Rustica.

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Reach Parker Milner at 843-830-3911. Follow him on Twitter @parkermilner_. Subscribe to CHS Menu newsletter

Food & Dining Editor

Parker Milner is the Food Editor of The Post and Courier. He is a Boston College graduate and former professional hockey player who joined The Post and Courier after leading the Charleston City Paper's food section.

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