LA CUCINA Italian Kitchen, Milano’s Finest In The Most Unlikely Place

LA CUCINA Italian Kitchen
6811 Highway 67 W.
Mountain City, TN 37683
(423) 727-0205

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by Danielle Bussone

 

 

La Cucina: Charming Entrance

 

Fourteen years ago Rich and I moved to Butler, Tennessee, a small burg tucked away in the mountains of Appalachia with a population of less than 800. The best place to eat closed down years ago. It was a gas station/restaurant where, from a row of booths sandwiched between the gas pumps in the front and the garage in the rear of the store, one could enjoy a chili dog and at the same time shop for spark plugs or tampons while breathing in oil and gas fumes. A lot has changed since we first arrived. Now vegans, we would not longer consider eating a chili dog and the restaurants that served them are long gone. There is neither a grocery store nor a gas station in the area.

So imagine our disbelief when a colleague told me of an outstanding Italian restaurant in Doe Valley, not ten minutes from Butler proper. Of course we made a bee-line to LA CUCINA Italian Kitchen to check out this rumor for ourselves. Owner/chef, Matteo Torri, a native of Milano, Italy has created a cozy haven with first class cuisine smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

 

La Cucina Exterior

 

A little white house right off highway 67 between Butler and Mountain City, it was almost surreal to find some of the best Italian food we’ve eaten in ages. There are several plant-based options and Matteo is perfectly willing to whip up something special at a moment’s notice in a spotlessly clean open kitchen.

 

Open kitchen

 

Matteo at work in kitchen

 

Slices of fresh house-made Italian ciabatta or focaccia bread are served with several dipping sauces including extra virgin olive oil with a pool of balsamic vinegar, and salsa verde — an incredible herb sauce made with blend of fresh parsley, garlic, vinegar and oil. There was a cheese sauce, as well as a dish of parmesan which, like good vegans, we pushed aside in favor of a spicy green chutney made from tomatillos, hot peppers and fresh herbs that was absolutely spectacular. This is a special dish prepared by Matteo’s wife Graciela, a native of Ecuador. Graciela doesn’t participate in the daily operation of the restaurant but she was behind the charming decor of LA CUCINA, helps to create recipes, and is responsible for many of the small tasks that go unseen and largely unappreciated.

 

Ciabatta Bread

 

Mouthwatering artisan breads and signature sauces

 

The service is provided by Janie, who reminds me a lot of country singer Dolly Parten. She and her daughter, Sissy, remind us with their warm southern drawls that we have not actually been transported to Italy. They wrap their guests in a blanket of good old southern hospitality where everyone is made to feel right at home.

 

Janie makes us feel like family

 

Full House

 

One thing to keep in mind is that LA CUCINA Italian Kitchen is a cash or local check only establishment. To keep operating expenses down and prices affordable in these volatile economic times, Matteo does not accept credit cards.

 

La Cucina: Interior 2

 

Porch Seating

 

On the day we arrived, there were no vegan appetizers so we opted for a fresh house salad. Matteo has developed relationships with local farmers who use organic farming practices, and it shows. The salad is comprised of several types of lettuces, olives imported from Italy, fresh red and green onions and huge chunks of fruity Mr. Stripey tomatoes, a local favorite. There is no way to get this kind of flavor from conventionally grown produce. The vinaigrette is a simple combination of vinegar and a high-quality olive oil. The same applies to the Tuscan soup, bursting with flavors of fresh herbs and gently cooked vegetables and legumes. Incredible!

 

Fresh Italian House Salad

 

Tuscan Soup

 

Rich ordered Orecchiette, “little ears” or small pasta shells tossed in garlic and olive oil with fresh asparagus and shiitake mushrooms. Delicately understated, the flavor of the vegetables dominate the plate leaving a hint of garlic lingering on the tongue. The pastas served at LA CUCINA are Italian imports as well as the olives, olive oil and tomatoes.

 

Orecchiette

 

It’s polar opposite, I had the puttanesca, a luscious plate of linguini tossed with roasted tomatoes, black olives, capers, green onions and fresh basil sautéed in olive oil. Perfect in every detail, the sauce was so flavorful I had to order more bread to clean the plate.

 

Puttanesca

 

A favorite at LA CUCINA is Matteo’s Ravioloni & Truffle Porcini, porcini mushrooms and Italian truffles sautéed in a butter-sage sauce. It is vegetarian, not vegan, there is a little ricotta cheese in the stuffing. You can have it prepared in olive oil-sage rather than the butter sauce.

 

Ravioloni Truffle & Porcini

 

Another dish, which is a dish Matteo grew up eating in his home, is the Linguine Al Pomodoro — linguine tossed in a simple tomato basil sauce.

 

Linguine Al Pomodoro with Basil

 

For dessert we were presented with a refreshing raspberry sorbetto with lemon mint. It tasted like fresh raspberries and was the perfect finish for a delightful meal.

 

Raspberry Sorbetto with Lemon Mint

 

Matteo and Graciela moved to this area three years ago and have made this little village of Doe Valley their home. The restaurant closes down for the months of January and February when the couple returns to Italy to stock up on many of the special ingredients Matteo uses to prepare his signature dishes at LA CUCINA Italian Kitchen.

 

Matteo with amazing house-made artisan breads

 

Sign

 

With winter’s ravages behind us, LA CUICINA is open once again, and come Wednesday, Rich and I will be waiting in the parking lot for the doors to fly open, to be greeted by Matteo’s welcoming smile, and the aromas of authentic Italian cooking ushering in the spring. It promises to be a great season!

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She author is of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” available January, 2015 at Amazon and at Danielle’s Website.

Danielle’s region is SW Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and anywhere she happens to stop for sustenance along the road. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

1 Comment

  1. Fabulous pictures and description!!! I’ll be right over. 🙂

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