GROWING UP in upstate New York meant that there was no shortage of Italian eateries, delis, pizzerias and bakeries.
My family included, this region is brimming with Italian influences given that so many immigrated to the area many generations ago.
When relocating to Savannah, the expectation was that Italian food would be limited to Olive Garden and pizza would be sold exclusively by chain joints whose quality matched their prices.
Over the past few years though, Savannah has shattered that speculation.
Not only have we welcomed several Neapolitan restaurants, but also, as of May 30, Savannah can add Sugo Rossa Italian Kitchen to the list of authentic Italian eateries.
Sugo Rossa, the brainchild of the restaurateurs behind Cotton & Rye, resides in the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center and occupies the former Atlanta Bread Company space.
Zach Shultz, owner of Cotton & Rye and Sugo Rossa, along with business partners Kimberly Whitestone, general manager and beverage director, and Brandon Whitestone, executive chef, decided to build an Italian restaurant with two motives.
One, they all share an infatuation with this type of cuisine and two, they “saw a need for good Italian food in Savannah.”
Shultz mentions that they acquired the former Atlanta Bread Company space right after Hurricane Matthew. After starting construction in January of this year, it took about 5 months to reinvent the space.
“From the HVAC and electrical to building a kitchen and all new flooring, I would call this a full build out.”
Now a grey color scheme, industrial lighting, compact red square mosaic tiling, and natural wood accents lend to Suga Rossa’s sophisticated yet laidback ambiance.
Sugo Rossa, “Red Sauce” in Italian, could not be a more appropriate name for an Italian Kitchen. Red sauce is truly the backbone of Italian meals. I should know, my grandma ladled spoonfuls of it over bowls of ziti and meatballs each and every Sunday.
At Sugo Rossa, they use the highest quality tomatoes from Italy for their sauce. “It took six months to finally come up with the sauce that we thought was perfect.”
Their classic marinara, which exudes a subtly sweet, rich and zesty heartiness, is thoughtfully integrated throughout their well-composed menu. A swoosh of red sauce is served with a trio of indulgent meatballs, a secret recipe of blended veal, beef and pork.
They are draped with creamy ricotta cheese and served with garlicky charred bread meant for sopping up the red gravy.
Homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli comes with a smattering of red sauce that is showered with Parmesan cheese. Mussels bathed in red sauce are made aromatic with garlic, basil, roasted tomatoes, fennel, and white wine. Parmigiana of chicken, veal and eggplant are offered with a generous portion of spaghetti and red sauce or fettuccini alfredo.
Most importantly, pizzas, blistered in a wood fired oven and fueled by live oak, are smothered in red sauce. All their pizzas are a hybrid of New York style pizza, scorched in a Neapolitan wood fired oven, making the crusts crisp and airy.
If you like heat, the Spicy Salami Pizza is a must try. This traditional pie, with spicy salami, fresh mozzarella, crispy basil, Parmesan cheese and red sauce, is made legendary by one simple ingredient- honey. The delicate sweetness of honey mellows the fiery meat, abetting the pizza’s mind-blowing flavor.
After a look at and taste of the menu, there is no doubt that Sugo Rossa lives up to its name!
In true Italian fashion, other offerings like fresh homemade focaccia bread with made-from-scratch garlic butter, lamb ragout with handmade pappardelle, whole branzino and beef carpaccio also grace the menu.
Shultz and the Whitestone’s met one another while working for James Beard award winning chef Allen Susser in Aventura, FL. “We always spoke about doing a restaurant one day together,” Shultz reminisces.
When Shultz moved back to Savannah, he invited the Whitestone’s to visit him. Given that it was their first time in the city, they instantly fell in love with its charm.
Shortly after settling in, the Whitestone’s and Shultz opened Cotton & Rye on July 21, 2015, despite naysayers calling them foolish for opening a restaurant in that part of town.
“We had a vision and ignored many people’s comments and proceeded to build our dream. Exactly two years after opening Cotton & Rye, we are here opening Sugo Rossa and ready to put out the best food and service that we possibly can.”
On May 30, Sugo Rossa’s soft opening was bustling with the lively aura of family, friends and local patrons who were every bit satisfied with the food and service.
“The people of Savannah have been so supportive and we thank them for allowing us to do what we do.”