A dearly missed Savannah restaurant: Leoci’s [classic article]

When visiting Savannah, Georgia, if you step away from the many tourist traps — including failed Food Network hostess outposts, places you have to line up for an hour outside in the beating sun, places the pamphlets might send you, on the water bars — they have a treasure in Leoci’s Trattoria. I was very happy to be hosted to experience it!

I travel all over the world and many destinations seem bent on sending visitors only to restaurants that strictly toe the line as to their native cuisine. That’s all well and good for a meal or two, but certainly locals don’t eat like that! Well, even if they do, I don’t want to eat like that! I appreciate a melting pot, flavors outside the box.

On a little quiet residential street, Leoci’s has outdoor seating in back. I was there on a hot evening (what, in Savannah?), so I chose to start the evening at the bar with house Sangria and seat inside for dinner. Chef-owner Roberto Leoci started studying the art of Italian cuisine during family summers in Sicily, with later formal training in Florence. He’s cooked for jet-setters at the Ritz Carlton and such tony spots as Fisher Island.

I would describe his style as Italian slow-cooking/home-cooking made with gourmet, luscious ingredients. NY strips, filet tips and chuck cooked with al dente cavatelli pasta redefine meat sauce.

Tri-tip with arboria, perfectly poached egg that you break for decadent richness, peas and carrots was so tempting, it barely made the photo slideshow before being snarfed up.

Gnocchi was very tender, with a subtly seasoned sauce, garnished with micro herbs and the slightest bit of spice.

The service at this casual trattoria is excellent; my server — a native of Iceland! — seemed to have as much knowledge of wines and how they relate to food as many master sommeliers I’ve met.

Whether you’re watching what you eat or want to try several dishes or share things, their half-portions are very generous.

Do you like luxuriant sauces on pasta? Maybe no thanks to my waist-line, I do. Their Tagliatelle Carbonara features homemade tagliatelle pasta, smoked pancetta, onion and Pecorino-Romano cheese topped with a farmer’s poached egg and Parmesan-Reggiano. This is a more flavorful carbonara than ones that you’ve had in the past.

For a meat course, a bacon-y roasted pork had char-grilled flavors and crisp veggies accompanying it.

So, you’re sitting in your armchair reading this, wishing you could get to Savannah right now, but can’t. Now, you can order order a number of goodies — including locally produced prosciutto, duck and lamb charcuterie, condiments, tantalizing pickled beets — online! I know a number of people who say they can’t or won’t cook. I have a friend who’s a famous movie director; he posts on Facebook when he can’t leave the house and wants something tasty to eat! With delicacies from Leoci’s Fine Foods, he can stop that nonsense. People can entertain without breaking a sweat. Try the beets served on toothpicks around burrata balls!

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