Saturday, November 14, 2009

Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant

Let me just say that I ate Da Vinci food three times in one week. The first time was for the story below, the second two were just because I couldn't get enough of the calamari. :-) Stephen liked his baby pizza, which is free for children under 5 when you eat in.  Chef Pavel's balsamic dressing is addictive, and his Da Vinci Salad-- with a warm chicken breast and sauteed mushrooms over spring mix, tomato and a hunk of feta is possibly the best salad to be had in Hopkinsville. Below is the story of how this international couple came to open their new eatery in a little Western Kentucky town.

Italian chef opens North Drive eatery

By Emily Parrino, Special to the New Era
Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 12:53 PM CDT
Pavel Skorpil’s signature Italian salad dressing, marinara sauce and pizza dough are all freshly made. Alexa Becker rattled off the list as though she was preparing for a quiz.

“Pavel, you make your meatballs from scratch?” she directed the question toward the kitchen where her husband was rolling out pizza dough.

“Yes I do,” Pavel fired back.

“He makes them from scratch,” Alexa repeated.

“You didn’t know this?” Pavel shouted from the kitchen, feigning indignation. “You’re fired!”

“Yeah, he makes everything from scratch,” Alexa said. “I am so glad I don’t work in the kitchen.”

The feisty couple are chef and head server of Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant, an eatery in the former Pizza Roma storefront on North Drive. Pavel is keen on treating the town to authentic Italian, but is also learning what locals like.

Since opening on Oct. 13, they’ve been selling mounds of meaty entrées.

“The first day, everyone wanted meat lover’s pizza,” Alexa explained. “The second day it was all Italian Sausage sandwiches. It was like everyone was calling their friends and telling them to order the same thing.”

Spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna with meat sauce have also been big sellers. Pavel also offers an Italian-style pulled pork sandwich with mushrooms and creamy gravy on foccia. In a town where meat-and-three is a menu staple, Alexa urged her husband to offer traditional barbecue sauce as a substitute to the Italian gravy.

“A lady ordered it the other day,” Alexa said, “and she was surprised.”

“She thought the flavors went well together,” Pavel said.

Pavel, originally from Italy, and Alexa, a German native, met and fell in love at a restaurant in Clarksville, Tenn., where they both worked. Pavel had initially come to the U.S. to be chef of a restaurant in Destin, Fla., before moving to Atlanta and eventually Clarksville. Each time, Pavel cooked a menu according to the owner’s set recipes and specifications.

After the Clarksville venue closed, Alexa urged her husband to be a chef once more, but this time using his own recipes.

“I told Pavel, ‘You should quit working for other people and open your own restaurant,’” Alexa said.

The couple agreed on opening Da Vinci in Hopkinsville, lured by the lower cost of rent and hoping to bring authentic Italy to the locals.

The bustle of business their opening week seemed to heat husband and wife up with the intensity of the Blodgett stone pizza oven that fills Pavel’s kitchen.

“We yell so much,” Alexa said. “But we don’t take it home with us.”

These days they don’t go home very often. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, with Pavel staying up, sometimes until 2 a.m. to make his dough from scratch.

“I am always busy,” he said. “I was born busy!”

“He makes dough by hand, using fresh ingredients,” Alexa explained. “One time he put a towel over the bowl and said, ‘Shh! Everybody be quiet because if you’re loud it will sink.’”

Pavel trained at a cooking school in Bolzano, northern Italy, but he learned his favorite dish, lasagna, from cooking under his grandmother in Milan. He still calls his popular recipe “Nona Lasagne,” using the Italian word for grandma.

In addition to the long hours, bringing Italian food culture to Hopkinsville has proved challenging. In Italy, lunch breaks are typically two hours, Pavel said.

“So if you go in a restaurant, the cook will make the pasta and bring it to you fresh, which takes between 10 and 15 minutes to prepare,” Pavel said. “You can’t do this because people here have only 30 or 40 minutes for lunch.”

He also decided to offer some decidedly American items like buffalo wings, deep pan pizza and cheese sticks alongside authentic Italian items like Mussels Alla Diavola and Calamari Fritti.

Still, Pavel is proud to make the majority of his menu from fresh ingredients. He tells Alexa to tell customers he uses specially ordered unbleached flour to make his dough.

“Unbleached flour is much better for your stomach,” Pavel said.

Pavel’s original recipes include Da Vinci Salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and feta; and his White Pizza, topped with crème, mozzarella, roma tomatoes, proscuitto and mushrooms.

The restaurateurs say their menu and long hours have won them many compliments.

Several of Da Vinci’s diners early Saturday evening were repeat customers.

“It was delicious again,” a woman said to the server as she left.

“Bye y’all,” Alexa said with a convincing twang. “Have a great day!”

Da Vinci Little Italian on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

My husband took me there today to eat. LOVED it! Absolutely will be back.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE IT! It is fabulous & NOT expensive. It is small, so get there early for a seat. The service is good & you will be satified when you leave. It is one of my favorite places in Hopkinsville.

Anonymous said...

Great Food and prices wonderful cuntomer service

Michelle said...

I realize this blog was entered over a year ago -- but I just went tonight for dinner for the first time! They have moved to another location(since I rode with a friend and am unfamiliar with the town)I am told and the food -- absolutely delicious!! I had the Pollo Saltimbocca (sp?) and it was good I cannot stop thinking about it! Garlic chicken with proscuitto and mushrooms! The house salad with homemade Italian dressing with fresh greens, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers was so flavorful. The bread -- I could eat and eat and eat (especially with the Saltimbocca sauce!). I finished with dessert - a chocolate chip cannoli with mango sauce. :) I'll be back for sure!!

Scott K said...

So it's and old original review, but I just tried it for the first time last week and WOW!!! Admitedly from the outside, it looks like an unassuming mom and pop place, the inside keeps that thought going, but once the food comes, everything else fades away. I had the Medaglione Di Manzo (bacon wrapped filets) and my date had the Pollo Alla Parmigiana (chicken parmesan) and for dessert I had the Cannoli and she had Tiramisu. There was not a single bite of anything that was not enjoyed and savored. The service was excellent and you can literally taste the freshness. We're you to get this caliber of a meal anywhere else, you could expect to spend in excess of $75 to $100, and still leave happy, but somehow, Pavel has found a way to offer some truly amazing dishes for far less.