Where some restaurateurs might see suburbia, Corbett and Julie Monica see community. Owners of Raleigh’s long-standing Italian trattoria Bella Monica Cucina & Vino, the Monicas opened their second eatery, Stellino’s Italiano, in May at Parkside Town Commons, putting their local footprint down amid big-box stores, boutiques and chain restaurants.
“A lot of my peers are opening restaurants downtown, but we’re suburban parents, and I just didn’t see myself in that mix,” said Corbett, head chef at the two establishments. “It made sense to look into shopping centers like this and try to go to the root of being a business of and for the neighborhood.”
The community response has been resoundingly positive, capped off with Stellino’s winning Cary Magazine’s Maggy Award for Best New Restaurant less than six months after opening.
“It’s an honor to be appreciated and to have the opportunity to feed people — to feed their bellies and to feed their soul,” said Corbett.
He grew up eating and working in his Nana’s New Jersey restaurant where she cooked traditional Neapolitan dishes from her family’s heritage in Italy. This early passion for food continued with a career in restaurants, culminating with the opening of Bella Monica in 2000.
“It afforded me a good perspective of both sides of the cooking line — what goes on in the kitchen as well as what goes on in the dining room,” Corbett said. “We want the service to be our differentiator. We focus on being hospitable and treating people like family.”
Family pervades all aspects of Stellino’s, starting with the menu of traditional Italian favorites like meat lasagna and baked ziti inspired by Corbett’s Nana’s original recipes.
“I don’t have many ingredients. Simple makes more sense,” said Corbett. “But I do like large and in-charge flavors.”
Chicken Parmigiana, Veal Bolognese and Mom’s Meatballs & Gravy are hearty and comforting dishes that have been perfected as they’ve passed through generations of family cooking.
Thin-crust pizzas stand out with fresh, unique combinations of toppings, such as clams and pancetta, and anchovies and capers. The pizza dough is made with imported Italian flour and fermented for 48 hours, creating a light and crispy final product.
“A lot of ideas come from outside experiences. Lately I’ve been trying to emulate the food that we have experienced in Italy in our travels,” said Corbett, who balances the menu’s classic staples with modern dishes and flavor pairings.
Bruschetta is a time-tested appetizer, but don’t expect only fresh tomato and garlic on a crostini. Cannellini beans with pecorino Romano, sundried tomato with walnut, and blue crab with garlic bruschetta showcase unique flavors in familiar ways.
Fresh off their Best New Restaurant Maggy Award, owners Corbett and Julie Monica share Stellino’s best of the best.
BEST TO SHARE:
BEST COMFORT FOOD:
BEST FOR KIDS:
Neopolitan pizza — margherita or Genoa
Roasted mushrooms antipasti
Shrimp and arugula pesto
BEST LIGHT FARE:
Beet and goat cheese salad
Likewise, pesto made with peppery arugula, instead of the usual basil, dresses a shrimp and fusilli pasta entree that highlights current and classic Italian flavors.
In the same way the menu combines modern and traditional elements, the restaurant’s interior fuses new and old.
“I wanted to make it a bit of yin and yang,” said Corbett.
“We’ve done homage to our Italian roots, but at the same time brought the modern twist in too.”
A full bar features a plethora of local spirits and beers, enhancing the community feel in the restaurant.
“So many entrepreneurs are putting out awesome stuff. Everybody’s trying to hit home runs, and they are. It makes our community awesome,” he said.
Wine and prosecco are available on tap, an up-and-coming industry shift that Corbett says makes sense for product quality and economics.
Julie Monica, Corbett’s wife of 20 years, oversees the front of house operations and training of the staff at both locations.
“I really want the feeling of Bella Monica to be brought here,” she said. “I want to make sure that every person who walks in gets a big hello or a hug. We like to greet people from the neighborhood by name.”
It wouldn’t be a family business if Corbett and Julie’s 13-year-old daughter, Estella, didn’t have a role as well. A practiced baker, she is behind the Chocolate Amore flourless chocolate cake that is served at Stellino’s, and she can often be seen in the dining room doing homework or helping out.
The Monicas strive to create a dining experience that inspires customers to come back time and again to their neighborhood eatery.
“Our goal is for somebody to come in, leave their outside world behind and just enjoy being at the table,” said Corbett.
Lunch and dinner are served Monday through Saturday, dinner only on Sunday.
1150 Parkside Main St., Cary
Parkside Town Commons
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