“With a nod to his roots as a pizza maker, Michael is bringing scratch-made Italian style pizzas, breads, strombolis, and calzones to the menu, but these items take second place to Chef Alcaraz’s rustic Italian inspired fare of pastas, fresh fish/shrimp/mussels, traditional Pork inspired Osso Bucco, Salimbocca a la Romana, Linguini Pescatore, homemade meatballs, organic & fresh salads, homemade dressings and sauces, as well as daily and weekly specials. The daily scratch made tomato bisque is sure to keep one warm, as is the homemade ciabatta bread that’s served complimentary to each table.” – Oliviana’s
Food is great. Hospitality is great. In order for a restaurant to be more than just acceptable, let’s say “exceptional and beyond”, it requires a wholesome marriage between the two. Ristorante Oliviana manages to demonstrate both of these aspects perfectly, yet seemingly without effort. Sure, Oliviana’s is a pizzeria, ristorante (Italian restaurant), and bar, but they are also something else that you will not find listed in the name – a family. It takes a true family to express the culinary passion and unprecedented hospitality that Oliviana’s offers. Owner Michael Schepis and Executive Chef David Alcaraz began with a vision for Oliviana and ended up constructing a famiglia. Located at Surrey Center here in Augusta, GE, Oliviana’s is a home away from home.
Every Friday night, Oliviana’s hosts a Latin Social where anyone from a beginner to professional can come and dance their cares away into the night all while enjoying delicious Italian cuisine over a full bar (with an impressive wine selection). Cristell Reyes, co-owner of Fusion Ballroom, often joins in the festivities to support her students whom clearly know a good opportunity when they see it. We have been close friends for a while and it just so happened that she wanted my company last Friday night. Meeting there around 8pm (the social usually begins around 10pm), we took a seat at the bar to embark in great drinks and conversation. The bartender literally torched lemon oil/zest in mid air when presenting her with a sangria. While being mesmerized by his skill and knowledge of cocktails, I had not noticed the gentleman to my left, whom seemed to emit an aura of authority with a friendly countenance. With him were two mason jars of what appeared to be, sauces? Used coffee grounds? I was puzzled until Cristell told me that it was David Alcaraz, the Executive Chef. Suddenly it all made sense – a culinary mastermind doing exactly what he does best, creating masterpieces. We were introduced and quickly gifted a complimentary Bruschetta Pomodora. Light and flaky crostini were caressed with olive oil and blanketed by marinated tomatoes, freshly-shaved Parmesan, basil, salt, pepper, and a finalizing balsamic reduction. Bravissimo! The sweet tang of the reduction paired perfectly with the nutty, saltiness of the Parmesan. This experience was further gratified, not only by the suggested Red Zinfandel, but also from what transpired next.
With taste buds intrigued, I asked David what exactly he had in his mason jars. He gave a smile and said, “some new things I’m trying out”. Within 45 seconds, there were two slices of pizza in front of us, each with a different looking topping/sauce. Not wanting to continually bother the Chef and his company, Cristell and I tasted the slices of pizza and discussed what flavors we gathered from each.
In reference to the photo on the right, the foremost pizza slice tasted like ‘basil with an attitude’ atop a margherita pizza. The slice in the background was something that really took me aback. “Smoked hickory, sweetly seductive, and a spicy cedar char with bacon” was exactly how I described the pizza. It was indeed a masterpiece. Paco, a sous chef and Friday night social DJ for Oliviana, stopped briefly to greet Cristell and divulged a little bit about the hickory tasting pizza. Apparently it (without giving away too much) was a bacon and maple reduction with coffee that is going to be potentially showcased on a new pizza. There was a lot more to the description, but you will just have to come try it for yourself to see what the buzz (caffeine buzz of course) is all about. The freshly melted Mozzarella was divine, but the sauce simply stole the show here. By this point I felt not only like an honored guest, by like I was slowly being accepted into the family style atmosphere that surrounded me. An inviting bar, friendly staff, accommodating host and great music all blended together into a medley of acceptance.
Shortly after, Michael Schepis arrived at the bar and it just so happened to be his birthday! This was seriously some incredible luck. Shaking his hand and wishing him a fantastic celebration, the Oliviana’s team pulled a cake out from the kitchen with candles ablaze. Being drawn in by the display, I found myself singing “Happy Birthday” to him along with the rest of the famiglia. Call me crazy or overly friendly, but the environment simply felt like a birthday party in a warm and friendly home.
The Italian cuisine was phenomenal. Cheese was certainly involved, but did not steal the spotlight of this scenario. It was the overall combination of culinary satisfaction and hospitality which highlighted the experience. I was a stranger in the home of welcoming hosts and feel honored for having been such. With this, I simply want to extend my appreciation to Chef Alcaraz and Michael for gifting such a memorable experience and to tell you, the reader, that you are missing out if you do not try out Oliviana’s. Expect to ‘sit a spell’ and spend a few hours enjoying food and drinks with the rest of the Italian family.
Oliviana Bar Italiano & Pizzeria