Photos by Todd Montgomery
Every other Tuesday night, a cheerful group of hungry and thirsty food and wine lovers show up at Spuntino, a family-owned pizzeria and delicatessen in the Baron’s shopping center on Rancho California. They come for Wine & Grub Night because they know the food will be fabulous and the camaraderie lively. This is not the place to go for a quiet night out, but it is the place to go to meet new people, enjoy old friends, and savor a delicious, ever-changing menu prepared by a true Sicilian pizza maker, Filippo Santangelo, who hand tosses each pizza. And all this good food is accompanied by plenty of wonderful wine.
Spuntino is locally owned by Charity and Alessandro (Alex) Prestifilippo. They also own Gourmet Italia, a more serene upscale haven for gourmet Italian dishes. Spuntino focuses on many different varieties of delectable pizza, homemade pasta, salads and sandwiches, and has the area’s only real wood-fired pizza oven. (Try Pizza Tutto with pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, mushrooms. peppers, onion, oregano, and artichoke hearts.) The atmosphere is family-oriented and casual. Spuntino also includes a tantalizing delicatessen with a changing variety of already-prepared dishes, meats and cheeses. (By the way, Spuntino means “small taste or little bites” in Italian.)
Alex was born in Piazza Armenia, Sicily, and Charity also has a direct Italian heritage. Alex moved to California in 1997, and opened Gourmet Italia in 2000. He and Charity opened Spuntino, in 2007. Alex focuses on running Gourmet Italia while Charity describes herself as “the face of Spuntino.” They have three children: daughter Mirella, who lives in Sicily, and sons, Luca and Logan. The family lives close by in De Luz (along with Charity’s father, two dogs, three cats, and about 60 chickens) on about seven acres, where they grow their own vegetables and have a vineyard and olive grove. They make their own wine and olive oil and many of the vegetables served in their restaurants come from their family farm.
Wine & Grub night has become a very special Temecula area event that evokes the spirit of family dinners in Sicily. Guests sit at long tables where food is served family-style. The menu is prepared by Fillippo, who comes from Alex’s hometown in Sicily, and is different every time, although the final course is always pizza. Last week, we started off with a mixture of Sicilian cracked olives, crunchy garlic bread, and a wonderful spinach and vegetable salad. Other dishes served that night included scrumptious stuffed artichokes, stuffed eggplant, rigatoni with tomato cream sauce, and several varieties of tasty pizzas. This was all accompanied by outstanding wines chosen by Charity.
Many times, a local winery brings its wine to share with guests. For instance, at the next Wine & Grub on Tuesday, November 15, the newly owned Bel Vino will be serving wine. (This winery was formerly Stuart Cellars.) In upcoming weeks, other wineries serving at Wine & Grub include:
Dec. 13: Wilson Creek Winery
Dec. 27: Palumbo Winery
Jan. 10: Frangipani Winery
A group of regular customers typically show up for Wine & Grub, but newcomers are always welcome. Bernie Bramante, who is almost always at these Tuesday night dinners says, “Spuntino is a very special place. Since I am of Italian descent, I especially appreciate the warmth and conviviality of the entire staff. The Tuesday evening Wine & Grub dinners are amazing. Where else in Temecula Valley can you sit around with great friends (new friends and old friends) and have wonderful conversation and be served freshly made, delicious family style meals?”
Last Tuesday night, Amie Charney, came to the Wine & Grub night for the first time. She says, “Although I didn’t quite know what to expect when friends invited me to attend, it was a feast and I loved having each course be a surprise. Each dish was lively, delicious and well-paired with the robust Cabernets we enjoyed. Although I had never met most of the other diners, by night’s end I felt like a member of the Spuntino grub night family. I can’t wait to share Spuntino’s next culinary adventure.”
Charity says the concept for Wine & Grub night grew out of the much-loved Italian tradition of serving family style meals that go on and on with lots of great food and great wine, accompanied by an abundance of laughter and stories. (And this is exactly what happens at Wine & Grub night.) She loves bringing this congenial tradition to her friends in Temecula.
Wine & Grub night is $25 a person, including all food and approximately two glasses of wine. Reservations are recommended. Call Angelo Catalano at 951-699-7722.
Angelo is also from Alex’s hometown in Sicily and is Spuntino’s chef during the day.
Photos courtesy of Todd Montgomery