From Tuscany to Cartucci’s: Menu evolving under new owner of Fisher Street restaurant
By Mark Wineka
Born in the Tuscany region of Italy, Massimo Marino came to the United States in 1993 to work as a pastry chef in a Charlotte restaurant.
He knew pastry, having worked in Italian bakeries since becoming a teen. But relocating to the United States was a big step.
The 21-year-old Marino spoke no English, and he was leaving behind a close-knit family that included four brothers and two sisters ó all older than he was.
Marino picked up English and Spanish in the Charlotte kitchen and elsewhere. Over the next 15 years, his career took him across the country ó to Chicago, Florida and California, where he served as either pastry chef, restaurant manager or both.
For a time, Marino also landed in Salisbury, when his first boss in Charlotte started a Kannapolis enterprise that manufactured fresh pasta. Before that business was sold and Marino had to find another restaurant job, he had a house here.
“I fell in love with the town,” Marino recalled. “I knew one day I wanted to come back.”
Last year, while he was managing a restaurant in Chicago, Marino learned that Al and Giovanny Torres were interested in selling Cartucci’s Italian restaurant at 105 E. Fisher St. in Salisbury.
By November, Marino was the new owner. The Salisbury restaurant now has no connection to the Cartucci’s in Mooresville.
“The only thing left is the name, pretty much,” Marino says, estimating that he has changed about 90 percent of the menu. But the transition has been smooth and the restaurant ó central to the city’s developing entertainment district ó never missed a day in the changeover.
As for the evolving menu over the months, Marino says, “it takes baby steps to introduce this kind of food.”
Marino describes today’s Cartucci’s as “100 percent Italian,” thanks to his own Italian roots and those of his longtime friend and Italian chef, Olivio Podda, who grew up on the island of Sardinia.
Marino says Cartucci’s is cozy, not too fancy and best thought of as an Italian bistro with quality food and service. He tries to make Cartucci’s an experience and wants his customers to know what dining Italian really is.
The restaurant specializes in fish, chicken, veal and, of course, pasta. But it also offers hot and cold subs, salads, gourmet pizza and calzones.
Many of the entrees come with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes. Marino still impresses customers with his desserts, especially his homemade tiramisu and creme brulee.
Cartucci’s has seating for about 40, and the decor and view of Fisher Street give it an European feel.
In June, a couple visiting Salisbury from Los Angeles left Marino a handwritten note after they paid their bill. It said they had been to Tuscany in the past.
“Sitting down at Cartucci’s, we thought we were back,” the note said. “The food was phenomenal, the atmosphere authentic to Italy and the staff incredible. We loved it and would return in a heartbeat.”
Marino says his favorite part of now owning a restaurant is being with customers and answering their questions about Italy and the food they’re eating. He loves giving recommendations and guiding his regulars, many of them from out of town, toward new dishes.
“Customers all the time ask, “What’s good? What should I eat?'” he says.
Marino usually recommends the specials, which stay for a week, changing every Friday.
This past week, the evening specials included portabella ravioli, tagliata al forno, salmon pomodorini, mahi mahi rosso and tilapia marina.
Marino enjoys the Fisher Street location and having other restaurants such as Santos, Brick Street Tavern and The Salty Caper as competitors, because it gives more reasons for people to come into this downtown section and try different things.
“On Fisher Street, there’s a big potential,” Marino says.He wishes the city would consider signs directing people to the Fisher Street area and also where they can find parking. He looks forward to offering sidewalk dining and the days when there are more downtown events and reasons to make Fisher Street pedestrian-only on the weekends.
Marino says he wants Fisher Street ultimately to become “the place” downtown.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” he adds.
Cartucci’s hours are from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. A lunch buffet runs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and lunch extends until 4 p.m. Dinner is available from 4 p.m. to closing.
Some people come in just for Marino’s desserts and coffee, he says.
Dory Walker has been a server with the restaurant since it opened under the former owners in 2005. She left twice through the years but keeps coming back.
“I love the place,” she says. “I’ve just loved it since I started.”
Marino gives his employees a lot of responsibility and makes them feel part of a team, Walker says. Even Marino often buses tables when he’s needed.
“I always wanted the owner to care as much as I do,” Walker says.
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