DAVIDSON – You might be Italian if you have three cousins named Vinnie. You might be Italian if your grandmother had and used three kitchens. You might be Italian if your mom visits and bakes cookies for three days straight.
Finally, you know you’re Italian when all the above things are true and you can cook like Vincent Digiorgio at Campania Café & Trattoria.
DiGiorgio has been cooking since he was a boy. He grew up in New Jersey and lived in a two-family home with his parents, siblings and maternal grandparents.
“My grandmother always had something on the stove,” he said.
And because his mother, father and grandfather all went to work, DiGiorgio stayed with his grandmother and inherently learned the basics of Italian cooking. He attended the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City. After graduating, he worked as a chef in various restaurants in and around New York City.
In 2008, he and his wife, Nancy, decided to move to North Carolina and open a restaurant.
“We decided we could do crazy all on our own,” he said.
The restaurant is named for Campania, the area his family is from in Italy. His father came to the United States in the late 1950s and his mother in the late 1960s. Both were from Campania and met and married in New Jersey.
“I have tons of family still in Italy,” said DiGiorgio. “We were lucky to be able to visit them often growing up.”
The restaurant, housed in an old Ice and Fuel Plant, clearly has an Italian focus and feel about it. The floors are exposed stone near the entrance that meld into wide wooden floorboards in the main dining area. Natural stone forms arches over two open doorways and rustic brick walls lend an Old World appearance. Bottles of wine, Italian coffee and espresso line the walls.
The menu is real, conventional Italian.
“We stick to the traditional stuff,” said DiGiorgio. “We do it simply, the way it’s always been done.”
But this is Italy Italian, not American Italian. The dishes are listed in the mother tongue with fresh ingredients and simmered sauces. The menu changes three times a year, as the weather changes to use produce that is in season.
The daily specials are where creativity flows, although they often become regular menu items.
Take the Cuore Romana, for example, which was so popular it just became a regular menu item. It is grilled romaine heart with gorgonzola, caramelized pancetta, red onions, cherry tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The ingredients are simple and traditional but with a fresh spin.
Eliza Hadjis is a senior at Davidson College and a server at Campania’s. She comes from an Italian family and feels at home at the restaurant. She is also one of the restaurant’s best customers.
“I often eat here on my days off,” she said. “My roommates joke that I eat here or I don’t eat at all!”
Neil Gallagher, of Davidson, and his wife eat at the restaurant nearly every week. He loves the fact it is housed in a historic building with a relaxed atmosphere.
“We look forward to the specials and finding a new favorite dish!” he said.
Davidson is home to the DiGiorgio family.
“We just love it here,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone, and it has this great vibe.”
Campania has become a Davidson mainstay, a dream come true for DiGiorgio.
“I get to do what I love and that is cook,” he concluded, with a happy grin.
Campania Café & Trattoria
416 S. Main St., Davidson
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