Itali-ah plans to deliver authentic Italian cuisine

Just as eager freshmen trade out their high school uniforms and Lily Pulitzer for Birkenstocks and flannels, owners of downtown Waterville’s Itali-ah Market and Restaurant have similarly decided to “reinvent” their shop for the upcoming year. Itali-ah caters to all diners, whether they want to have nice sit down meal, need Italian cooking supplies, or simply desire a quick coffee and gelato.

Formerly known as Napoli Market, the authentic Italian grocer located on 74 Main Street was bought in November of 2016 by current owner, Jennifer Bergeron. She began renovations in April of 2017, and in a recent interview with the Echo, expressed her excitement for the restaurant’s reopening. “I saw a huge potential in the business, which began as an Italian specialty market. My idea was to expand with a full service restaurant serving authentic regional Italian fare to augment the market, exposing people to Italian products not normally found in America, let alone Maine,” Bergeron said.

While the restaurant is in the midst of a “soft opening,” Bergeron and Executive Chef Jonathan Rosenbloom have taken time to refine their menu, making sure that it provides the most authentically Italian experience for its patrons as possible. In fact, Rosenbloom himself lived and worked as a chef in Italy for 20 years, gaining a wealth of knowledge on Italian cuisine which he brought back with him to Waterville and Itali-ah. His and Bergeron’s ‘shared vision for Itali-ah,’ Bergeron explained, aligns “with a strong belief in the renewal of downtown Waterville was the impetus for the restaurant side of the business. We’ve realized this vision by putting several elements of the Italian culinary experience under one roof.”

Bergeron hopes that Colby’s revitalization efforts with the downtown area will help her business thrive, as the former retail shop owner has “always been a firm believer in downtown Waterville and says she is “excited for the changes happening here.”

Indeed, she makes plain the restaurant’s Maine roots with the name Itali-ah, which she chose since it conveyed, “tongue in cheek, that we are Italian, but with a Maine accent”. Although Bergeron expressed that the focus of the restaurant “is 100% on Italian goods and food, we will feature Maine products or companies that make or carry Italian type products.” For example, Itali-ah will feature Speckled Ax Coffee which is roasted in Maine over hardwood, Italian style, as well as Pascucci Coffee from Italy.

True to its name, Italiah’s look is authentically Italian, from the vintage venetian light fixtures to the custom fabricated banco bar. “The true centerpiece of our open kitchen”, Bergeron explained, “is the wood-fired artisan oven handmade in Naples, Italy and adorned with artisan Palladian tiles in red, white, and green.” All of the store’s items were hand selected by Rosenbloom and Bergeron in order to maintain authenticity; in fact, a two-month delay in the delivery of specific Italian items has caused the soft opening to be prolonged longer than intended. “Our tables and dishes etc. are over two months late so far,” Bergeron explained, “but we are making due with rented tables and locally purchased items for service. Of course, we wouldn’t want to officially open before our look was complete.”

Of course, at the center of the market place and restaurant is the food. And while the market offers a selection of sauces, noodles, meats, cheeses, and more that are not available anywhere nearby, Bergeron is quite possibly most excited about the meals prepared by her chefs in the restaurant. Truly dedicated to maintaining Italian authenticity, the restaurant’s “pizziaolo” (pizza maker) and head chef went to Scuola Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples, Italy, where they were trained and certified in the art of Neopolitan pizza making, which is a very complex undertaking, Bergeron explained. But the menu does not stop at pizza; handmade noodles are prepared every day for the restaurant’s signature pasta offerings, and gelato is made in house with an Italian Carpigiani machine. In addition, wine tastings and dinners with chefs are offered nearly every month.

Since Itali-ah has not officially “reopened” its menu and hours are subject to change. Nevertheless, the market place and restaurant are open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday but Sunday. Menus are posted around campus on dorm bulletin boards, and in dining halls. For more information on Itali-ah Market and Restaurant, visit their Facebook page or call (207) 660-4584.

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