In a tiny converted house on the edge of Clifton sits a portal to old-world Italy. Operated by chef Gina Stipo, an American who spent 13 years living and traveling in Italy, At the Italian Table is presented more as an experience than a meal.
Two tables set for eight to 10 people fill the tiny structure, with antique furnishings, decor and accessories — most if not all of them imported from Italy — bordering the dining space. One of the tables is a 300-year-old chestnut communal farm table.
The dishes are Italian. You want authentic Italian? It’s time to stop eating at the Olive Garden and turn your attention to Stipo’s endeavor, which opened in 2015.
“I’m doing authentic Italian,” Stipo says, taking a break from preparing for yet another meal. “I’m not doing authentic New Jersey Italian.”
The cuisines and styles she and her small staff prepare for guests mostly come from northern and central Italy; most of the Italian restaurants here, she says, focus more on southern Italian fare or what American palates are accustomed to as Italian food.
Since she lived in the Tuscany region for 13 years (she also spent time as a child in Verona, Italy), where she taught cooking and conducted food and wine tours, it only makes sense. She’s cooking what she knows and loves.
Meanwhile, Stipo sources much of the food during her regular return trips to Italy. Other ingredients she sources locally, while she even grows some ingredients in her own gardens.
At the Italian Table starts its five-course dinner promptly at 7 p.m. You can book a group, just a single seat or for a couple, in which case you’ll be meeting and dining with some new people. The evening starts with a cocktail (on the adjacent patio if weather permits), along with perusing the extensive wine list for your preferred pairing to go with that evening’s meal, whatever it may be.
Next is antipasto, which usually means authentic charcuterie and cheeses, followed by pasta, then meat and a vegetable. Pasta is handmade daily in the restaurant’s kitchen, which is clearly visible from the main dining table.
Meat often is grilled outside on a small Weber grill on the patio. A salad follows your main course, and dessert, of course, finishes things up along with an optional decaf espresso at the end of the night. The whole meal usually takes about three hours and costs $65 per person.
And the place often gets booked up weeks or even months in advance, so plan ahead.
Stipo’s concept was to cater to people who enjoy old-school, communal dining and/or who have spent time in Italy and want to relive the experience.
“I didn’t know how well it would be received,” Stipo says. “What surprised me is that there are people who had never eaten like that or been to Italy. Ninety-nine percent of them really appreciate sitting down and just eating, and talking.”
It went over immediately; within three months of opening, she realized she had to add the second table. It’s easy to see why — the micro-restaurant is unlike any other eatery in the city. Each day, fresh linens are placed on the tables, along with candles for just the right atmosphere. An antique Fiat refrigerator in one corner serves as the wine cooler. Other wines line the place on shelves.
Stipo originally hails from Virginia, but she became acquainted with Louisville beginning in 2009 when she did a stint as a guest chef here. It became a recurring stop when she would travel to America from Italy. So, when she decided she wanted to return to America to live, she knew she wanted to open a restaurant — and Louisville was the place she picked.
“It was the neighborhoods that attracted me, the architecture, the history,” she says. “It also has such friendly people. It’s a combination of the East Coast and the Midwest. It has a lot of people who are into food, and a lot of small businesses. I considered all my options when I decided to move back to the U.S., and I chose Louisville.”
Recent menus have included dishes such as grigliata made with grilled steak, chicken, pork belly and wild ramps; cannellini and mussel soup; ravioli del plin with sage butter; roasted red snapper with black sea salt; and orange olive oil cake. And that only skims the surface.
(Keep up with the food offerings by following the restaurant’s Facebook page.)
She likens her popular restaurant to being sort of an Italian Airbnb, but without the overnight stay. This is because guests experience a home-cooked meal, Italian style, with the same level of hospitality one might receive when staying with an Italian family.
“But you don’t have to go to Italy to do it,” she asserts.
At the Italian Table, located at 2359 Frankfort Ave., serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations can be made by calling 502-883-0211; no online reservations. Stipo also does cooking classes every Tuesday evening.
Correction: At the Italian Table is located in Clifton, not Crescent Hill — though it sits just on the border of the two Frankfort Avenue neighborhoods.