Sandlapper Society

Autumn 2010

Winnsboro's A Little Taste of Italy

Chatting with Enzo Torre, chef and owner of Enzo’s Ristorante Pizzeria in Winnsboro, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about Italian food. Enzo loves what he cooks and wants you to love it as well. “It’s warm now, so we make shrimp pomodoro,” he says, and his eyes begin to brighten. In his mind, he seems to be tasting the dish as he describes it. “It has artichoke hearts and fresh plum tomatoes, sautéed with garlic. Not too fancy, oh, but with the fresh basil, it’s so good, so light, but so full of flavor. The pasta is fresh and with the shrimp, you just can’t imagine.” He stops abruptly, as if remembering he’s not alone. “You should try it.” It’s hard not to ask him to please, please make some right then and there. And could he add an order of bruschetta?

Then he’s up, striding toward the kitchen. “Let me show you something,” he urges. “This is my newest thing for the menu. Do you know porchetta? Oh, it’s the best. Very authentic Italian.” As he speaks, Enzo has pulled a gigantic piece of meat out of the refrigerator. Large slices of pork skin have been tied to the roast with kitchen string and fennel leaves peek out from the center. But what’s amazing is the smell, the clean, peppery aroma of olive oil, fennel and a few other herbs.

“I’ll roast this tomorrow and we’ll slice it for sandwiches. It will be delicious.”

It probably will. A native of Sicily, Enzo trained as a chef in Milan. Fifteen years of restaurant work in New York at Mezzaluna, and later in Miami at Paesano’s and Il Fico, fine-tuned his cooking skills but also wore him down to the point that he shifted careers. Luckily for South Carolinians, he found he couldn’t stay away. “I worked as a contractor restoring houses in Orlando,” he says. “I had such a crazy life in Miami, I wanted to try something new, something calmer. But I missed cooking too much and knew I had to get back into it.”

Enter Winnsboro. “I decided that I wanted to open a restaurant, live with my family in a small town where we could be part of the community,” he says. “This seemed perfect.”

Once Enzo and Lisa decided to make the move, the next step was finding a space for the restaurant. Any other chef might have walked by the dingy building on South Congress Street, but Enzo, with his previous renovation experience, easily saw past the crumbling plaster and undulating floor. “I walked in and thought, ‘Wow, this will be a beautiful restaurant,’” he recalls. Eight months later, it was. Thirteen dump truck loads of dirt had evened the floor, which is now covered with artistically painted concrete. Once the plaster was scraped away, brick walls emerged, their crumbly patina giving the space a warm, lived-in appeal. Instead of banquettes, softly scuffed church pews and wooden benches from long-shuttered diners offer seating. Enzo built the bar himself, using parquet floor from a house that was being demolished. The restaurant opened to rave reviews from diners, but then tragedy struck when, just days later, thieves stole artwork off the walls and wine from the cellar before setting the restaurant on fire.

“The fire was a setback, but we got through it,” says Enzo simply. “What else can you do? At least they had good taste in art and wine.”

The robbery may have slowed him down, but Enzo never considered not reopening and, after a few weeks, he did. Today, two-and-a-half years later, Enzo has found a happy medium between classic Italian dishes that American palates know and love, and not-so-familiar tastes that he thinks his customers will enjoy once they give them a try. Surprises abound, such as fennel au gratin, a creamy side dish; Enzo’s own sausage studded with escarole and asiago cheese then grilled and, when it’s soaked up all the flavor it can from its marinade, the porchetta. He’s even added his takes on a few Southern specialties.

That’s great for Enzo, who has enjoyed the creative challenge, but tough on customers, who may have walked into the restaurant craving lasagna but, upon hearing that the night’s special is Enzo’s shrimp and grits, which feature with Italian capicola ham and lobster bisque, may not know which way to go. The lasagna, a satisfying tower of toothsome pasta, creamy ricotta and just-this-side-of-sweet tomato sauce, isn’t something you’re likely to make at home or, for that matter, find anywhere else. But who can resist a fresh take on shrimp and grits? 

To further complicate matters, there’s Enzo’s pizza. “Oh, my pizza is fantastic!” he beams. He’s right. Made from a dough similar to one used to make focaccia, Italy’s chewy, olive-oil-scented bread, Enzo’s pizza is completely unique. First there’s the shape, rectangular instead of round. Then there’s the crust, neither thick nor thin, crunchy on the edges, soft in the middle, grease-free, yet tasting of olive oil. A light hand with the best ingredients— whole milk mozzarella, homemade tomato basil sauce, smoked bacon— results in pies that are flavorful and satisfying, but not heavy.

As Enzo looks around his restaurant, his eyes come to rest on the words “Mangia Bene, Vivi Bene” (Eat Well, Live Well), which he had painted on the wall above the bar. “That’s what life’s all about,” he says. “True friends, family, peace with God, and good food and wine. You really don’t need anything else.”  

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Editor's note: We are sad to report Enzo's soon after the article appeared in Sandlapper.

Enzo’s Shrimp & Linguine Carbonara
(serves 4)
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ small onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 slices bacon, crisply fried and crumbled
1 pound shrimp
½ cup green peas
1/3 cup dry white wine
¾ pound linguine, cooked al dente, with a cup of the cooking water reserved

In a large, heavy skillet, sauté the garlic and onion in the butter and oil until just beginning to color. Add the wine and boil for a few seconds to burn off the alcohol, then add the bacon and the cream, and return to a gentle boil. Simmer for two or three minutes to thicken the sauce, then add the shrimp and the peas and cook until they’re just barely cooked, about 3 more minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Add the hot linguine to the pot and stir until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce and the shrimp are cooked through. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little of the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir in the parsley and serve. 

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