Philadelphia native Tony Fazzini, along with his wife Becky and their niece Jill Boyd, opened Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana in January of 2002 on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. It's not an intuitive place for an Italian restaurant to hold out a shingle, but it works beautifully nonetheless.
The charming Italian restaurant isn't only a place to get a great meal, but also a gathering place for all of those who love and respect food. Executive Chef Chris Johnson is at the helm, making truly rustic Italian dishes reminiscent of the Italian countryside come to life on Hilton Head Island.
On a recent visit to the restaurant, I sampled a four-course tasting menu with wine pairings. What struck me about the food was the overall quality paired with its simplicity. The dishes weren’t overcomplicated. Dishes like a rack of lamb with a plum glaze were kept pure in preparation and presentation.
We began our meal with a glass of prosecco and a plate of Italian antipasti. The mixture of marinated vegetables, cured meats and cheeses aptly prepared us for what was to come next. Another standout of the evening was the tuna carpaccio: the dish was thinly sliced, Hawaiian-style tuna dressed only very lightly with olive oil to enhance the true essence of the fish.
The main showstopper was the rack of lamb, which was cooked to perfection and a reasonably portioned. The size that allowed us to sink our teeth into the dish without being overwhelmed by one of the final dishes in the series.
While I was hesitant to indulge in something sweet, chef Johnson talked us into trying the panna cotta con frutta fresco, a Tuscan vanilla cream pudding served with fresh fruit. While it sounds rather decadent, it was light and creamy and after a few bites. I was glad I was persuaded to try it.
The restaurant boasts two additional areas, including an open kitchen used for cooking classes and events, which add to the overall ambiance of the restaurant. It’s a place where someone can eat, learn, and enjoy simultaneously. It also has its Italian Specialty Market, located on the first floor alongside the main dining room, and bar that offers a unique and rustic setting for as many as 20 guests.
The personal touch is paramount at Michael Anthony’s. The chef is more than willing to cater to those with food allergies, and the staff and owners remember their locals and bend over backwards to accommodate them. The service is seamless and at points during our meal, I felt as if the server could intuitively know what I wanted next, which was absolutely the case when he poured me a fabulous glass of dessert wine to have with my panna cotta.
When you close your eyes at Michael Anthony's, you could easily imagine that you're dining in Italy. When you open them back up again, you’re rather pleased you’re in Hilton Head.