They moved from the United States to cook American food in deepest Italy. This is what happened

The Calabria region, right at the toe of Italy’s boot, is where Italian cuisine comes into its own. In addition to the usual wide variety of classic dishes, locals enjoy spicy foods such as pork blood sausages known as sanguinaccio and pasta with ‘nduja chili salami.

It is a place full of ancient traditions, both cultural and culinary. In many ways, very little has changed here for decades or even centuries.

That’s why it’s a surprise, as deep in Italy as you can get, to find a restaurant that’s not only run by an American family but is doing a big business serving American food.

The Fig restaurant was opened in late 2023 by Shannon Sciarretta from Florida and her partner Filipe da Silva, a native of Rio Vermelho in Brazil, in Santa Domenica Talao, a remote hillside village that is home to just 1,000 people.

At tables overlooking the main plaza, the couple sells American classics, including Cape Cod-style lobster rolls with mayonnaise, Reuben sandwiches, chicken wings, tacos and burritos. Also on the menu are toppings such as maple syrup and barbecue sauce, previously unknown to the villagers.

The unlikely food adventure was conceived when the couple, who previously lived on Cape Cod and worked in the U.S. restaurant business, were looking for a fresh start, a more affordable place to live and a better quality of life to raise their child. son. .

“My husband and I wanted to raise our 3-year-old daughter Erminia in a small (Italian) town, surrounded by history and the slower-paced, healthy lifestyle it offers,” Sciarretta tells CNN.

“We didn’t move here to isolate ourselves but to really integrate. “The locals have supported us to offer new cuisine that they have never tried before.”

shaking things up

Sciarretta, who has dual American-Italian citizenship, had wanted to reconnect with her Italian roots before the couple decided to take the plunge.

His grandfather was originally from Minturno, a fishing village north of Naples, and after attending university in Rome years earlier, he had fallen in love with la dolce vita. The COVID years passed and both she and da Silva decided it was time to take the step and chose Calabria.

“We fell in love with Calabria and especially Santa Domenica Talao,” says Sciarretta. “It’s a beautiful hilltop town with panoramic views of the mountains, but it’s really the community, untainted by the commercialism and tourism you see in other cities, that is super welcoming.”

“Here everyone takes care of each other. If one person is not doing well, the whole city comes together to help each other,” he adds.

Since the opening of The Fig, the couple’s creations have created quite a stir on Calabria’s quiet Costa dei Cedri, or Citrus Coast, also attracting mayors and luminaries who choose the restaurant for event lunches.

The new place is a great success.

They sell American variations on Italian classics, but it’s the unfamiliar foods that are winning over local diners. These include Southern US dishes such as breakfast biscuits and gravy, pulled pork sandwiches, and many Tex-Mex specialties with breakfast burritos.

Sciarretta says it’s been fun to introduce Italians, who typically start the day with a sweet pastry along with their morning coffee, to savory breakfast ingredients like sausages.

Their whiskey chicken with peaches and mashed potatoes has also been a hit, among others.

“We had a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and fried onion rings with homemade BBQ sauce,” Sciarretta says. “Italians have never had anything like it and they are still talking about it and asking when it will come back.”

Taco Tuesday (and Monday)

But the biggest draw is the full taco menu on Monday and Tuesday nights, which is consistently oversold. The locals, it seems, are crazy about these “exotic” evenings.

“Our taco nights are super fun, we have a great crowd of Italians and Americans… it’s been fun explaining (to Italians) what a street taco is and how to eat it with your hands, not with a fork and knife,” says da Silva.

Tacos have proven to be very popular among Calabrian locals. (Shannon Sciarretta via CNN Newsource)

Sciarretta and da Silva celebrated Thanksgiving last year and hosted an Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day weekend, serving imported Guinness and fish and chips to diners, including American expats with Irish roots.

Locals have also been visiting The Fig for “unusual” breakfasts including authentic bottomless American coffee (along with Italian espresso), bottomless mimosas, oat milk cappuccino, ginger molasses crinkle cookies, and bagel sandwiches. fermented dough.

“One of the first things we imported from the United States was quality maple syrup for our breakfast menu, which is simple, so we often make specialties like lemon poppy seed pancakes, panettone French toast, and bagels. smoked salmon,” says Sciarretta.

And there is alcohol. The couple uses imported spirits such as Tito’s Vodka from Austin and Bulleit Bourbon and Rye from Kentucky.

Sciarretta, a former bartender, has always had a passion for cocktails. His signature “hybrid” cocktails include The Calabrese (Calabrian chili-infused tequila) and Black Manhattan with Kentucky Bulleit bourbon, Italian Amaro, bitters and local liqueurs. amarene black cherries

On taco nights there’s a list of specialty margaritas and mezcals, plus Brazilian cachaça cocktails.

For dessert, there are also ‘espresso martinis’ and Baileys Irish coffees.

The couple says they decided to cook American food in the deep south of Italy because they wanted to change local culinary trends.

When he attended college in Rome in 2009, Sciarretta noticed that the only thing missing to make it perfect was the diversity of the food scene.

Sourdough bagels are also on the menu. (Jayda Iye via CNN Newsource)

“I love Italian food, I grew up in an Italian-American family where we had Sunday sauce and braciola every week and homemade pasta, but growing up in the United States, it’s a melting pot of cuisines, so I really missed Italian, Filipino and Italian food. Mexican. Thai and Indian foods.

“That’s where the idea of ​​returning to Italy to open a restaurant was born,” he says.

building a bridge

Being able to find an affordable home in Italy was another reason they left the U.S. When COVID hit, they decided to take the plunge after stumbling upon Calabria during an online search.

“The housing market in the United States is out of control, and that influences why we move,” adds Sciarretta.

Now they have settled in a four-room rural cabin, with olive trees and vineyards, a setup that has cost them less than half the million dollars or more that something similar in Florida or Cape Cod would cost. There they grow their own products, including jalapenos and cilantro.

When they embarked on their new venture, the idea of ​​incorporating a foreign cuisine into Calabria’s deeply rooted food culture was “certainly terrifying,” Sciarretta says.

“We didn’t know if they would accept us, but we cook the foods we love and are introducing a new twist on their local products.”

Because food, in their opinion, is just another way to bridge cultures, they say they feel proud to see locals “embrace something new and foreign to them.”

More importantly, they say, opening The Fig has given them more quality family time.

The couple say moving to Italy has given them more time together as a family. (Jayda Iye via CNN Newsource)

“Our lives before Italy were very busy, we have both always worked non-stop, in several different jobs at the same time and had little time for anything else. Now we are literally a family unit,” says da Silva.

When the restaurant is open, da Silva works in the kitchen, Shannon at the entrance greeting customers while his daughter jumps between the two of them, setting tables and helping where she can.

“There are locals who come with their children her age and she sits, eats and plays with them. It feels more like a community gathering than a business,” adds da Silva.

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