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A taste of Tuscany

New deli and market Tuscany at Your Table brings real Italian charm to Virginia-Highland

CL Photo - Sucheta Rawal story
Photo credit: Joeff Davis/CL File
Luigi D’Arienzo and Meredith Hall - Tuscany at Your Table

One evening in the central Italian region of Tuscany, Meredith Hall, a young English teacher from Atlanta, walked into a traditional tango gathering known as a milonga. There, she met a charming local chef named Luigi D’Arienzo. Over passionate slow dances, fine wine, and Tuscan food, the two fell in love and together immersed themselves in a lifelong obsession with Italian cuisine, language, and culture.“We Italians have a zest for life, culture, and socializing,” says D’Arienzo, whose friends call him Gigi. He speaks with a thick southern Italian accent and glances often at his now-wife Hall, a playful glint in his eye.

A native of Naples, D’Arienzo trained at the Luigi De Medici Culinary Institute before taking an agritourism job running a farmhouse in Siena, Tuscany. A few years after marrying Hall, he moved back home with her to Atlanta. Here, the couple got jobs at Emory University; Hall taught Italian language studies while D’Arienzo worked in the school cafeteria.

In the meantime, they continued to share their love for all things Italian by hosting culinary tours to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast and teaching cooking classes at their home in Druid Hills. Their velvety carbonara, tender osso buco, hearty caponata, and rich chocolate pistachio cake quickly earned a following, and after teaching well over a hundred classes, D’Arienzo and Hall decided to open their own shop and deli. Tuscany at Your Table debuted last month in Virginia-Highland and serves up imported and house-made Italian specialties that cannot be found elsewhere in town.

The shop picks up where similar Va-Hi Italian concepts like Toscano and Sons and Bella Cucina left off. Its interior resembles a casual deli in Italy, sparsely decorated with colorful Palio di Siena horse-racing flags — an important part of D’Arienzo’s upbringing. A small market sells imported cheeses, meat, wine, pizza dough, fresh pasta, and other Italian staples such as Oli+Ve infused olive oil, aged balsamic from Modena, Liguria pesto, green olives from Sicily, Perugina chocolates, and hand painted ceramics from Umbria. D’Arienzo has personally selected many of the wines he sells, often rare finds from small wineries across Italy he believes worthy of discovery. There is self-service and seating for 10, though most customers order food to-go.

D’Arienzo's menu is based on fresh and healthy home-style Italian cooking. Each day, he prepares pastas, soups, salads, and entrées of the day, buyable in individual portions or by weight. You might find a surprisingly decadent vegetarian lasagna or sweet butternut squash stuffed into handmade rolls of cannelloni. Italian-style panini on chewy ciabatta bread ($7.95 each) are available daily, and every now and then the chef will whip up traditional dishes such as insalata di Rinforzo, a Neapolitan Christmas Eve staple, or pappa al pomodoro, a rustic Tuscan tomato and bread soup.

“I want to offer healthy food that people can pick up after work and can go home and reheat,” says D’Arienzo. “Usually vegetarian dishes can stay in the car longer and don’t need to be refrigerated right away.” Harking back to his Italian upbringing, he tries to use seasonal ingredients whenever possible, avoids heavy creams in his soups and sauces, and always offers gluten-free variations.

Hall rotates out the dessert counter with whatever she’s in mood to bake that day. Cantucci, moist lemon crostata, and torta della nonna (grandma’s custard torte with pine nuts) are a few of her favorites.  

What makes Tuscany at Your Table special is the couple’s personal touch. D’Arienzo is almost always behind the counter making fresh pasta or filling his cannoli with homemade ricotta. He will stop to talk to clientele, recommend wine pairings, and show them how to present a dish. “Here’s how you can drizzle olive oil over your lentil soup before serving,” he tells one customer, demonstrating the technique like a patient parent.

In the coming months, D’Arienzo and Hall plan to host a variety of social events they hope will bring a slice of authentic Italian life to Va-Hi. Stay tuned for "Tango, Prosciutto, and Pecorino," an evening of Italian food, wine, and dancing; wine paired dinners from specific regions in Italy; cooking classes (on Jan. 24 they'll be making fresh pasta), and more.

Tuscany at Your Table. 1050 N. Highland Ave. N.E. 404-205-5092. www.tuscanyatyourtable.com.