28 Dec,2017 By Jagabond
Another restaurant review? Yes indeed. I went to a small town in Italy and tried the local restaurant, and left stunned, amazed, and satiated.
I visited Montella over my birthday weekend, not knowing what to expect. The hill towns of Avellino can be schizophrenic. In some ways quaint and magical, and other ways boring and sleep-inducing. You can always count on amazing wine, but it’s never surprising if the town consists of a single main street. Montella was different. You almost felt some semblance of nightlife here, and it seemed more posh than other Avellino towns. This might be due to the chestnut industry, of which Montella is at the forefront. I never thought that chestnuts could be such a boon to the economy, but Montella had the look and feel of a more well-to-do area.
Everything about this trip was great, not just the fabulous restaurant. I stayed the night at Soggiorno Boccuti, ideally located near a local market. The owners had five amazingly friendly dogs, and the views from my balcony were incredible. There was a football field in front of the B&B, where screaming, athletic youths dreamed of playing for the hometown Napoli club, and the mountains in the distance provided the perfect backdrop.
While I was waiting for my table at Pepenero, I found a nearby pub called Piper. Pubs aren’t that common in the Avellino province. This one was a pleasant surprise, as there was a nice outdoor area in the back to enjoy a drink while watching the football match. On this night, Juventus wiped the field with Milan. I had my aperitif here, a hearty glass of Prosecco.
As I entered Pepenero I received a great welcome to a modern-looking, pristine restaurant. I always love when the kitchen is in plain view of your table, it makes you more confident in the food quality.
The head chef, Marco, was a jack-of-all-trades, master of all. He walked this English speaker through the menu, and also recommended an outstanding bottle of white.
Marco was running back and forth to the kitchen all night, and I even caught a shot of him personally deboning a fish for an adjacent table.
I love the free starters at these Italian restaurants. Before I could even take a sip of wine, they presented me with an anchovy on a bed of cous cous. I remember making anchovies at a cooking class in Cinque Terre, this was much better! The bread was also uniquely awesome…I preferred the salty square bread.
Before moving to Italy I never ordered octopus. What’s the difference in taste between octopus and squid, anyway? I’ve evolved from my love of fried calamari, onto the non-breaded version. The mix with octopus, tomatoes and potatoes was epic.
I’m learning to appreciate the primi and secondi phenomenon at Italian restaurants. Either one will fill you up, especially when the primi is a heavy pasta dish. The size zero crowd in California would rebel against this. Since it was my birthday, I went all in for a full dinner. The homemade pasta with chunks of tuna was delectable.
Peel and eat shrimp traumatized me. Years ago when I was living in New Orleans, I went on a first date to a famous seafood restaurant. I was wearing a white button-down shirt, and ordered the barbecue peel and eat shrimp. Halfway through the meal, little red spots covered my entire shirt. I moved on from the trauma and ordered the peel and eat shrimp here. Check out the presentation with the broccoli. Restaurants sometimes forget that how the food looks can impact the experience. Pepenero scored major points with this dish.
I don’t have a great history with dessert. I prefer ingesting my calories during the main meal. Italians, and many other Europeans, don’t declare a meal over until the dessert arrives. Thinking about my birthday, I said what the hell. The custard with caramel was ridiculously good, an hour at the gym on Monday should get rid of my guilt.
How do I close an evening like this? The best digestif in the world…Limoncello! In my life I never really got the concept of the after dinner drink. After one year in Italy, I can’t imagine having an Italian meal without the closing of a Limoncello shot.
Bottom Line: Montella is an hour drive from Naples. Plan ahead and visit in early November, when the town has its annual chestnut festival.