We finally arrived last week, my husband and I, at our dream dining destination!
Because our calendar was full with artCentral happenings that wrapped up with artCamp, many weeks had passed since we first spoke of our intention to pay this place a visit.
Back in early spring, I initially learned of the culinary pleasure we would find. Terri Heckmaster, president of Precious Moments Supporting Foundation, reached out to inquire about my helping with art for the walls of an exciting new venue she was working to bring to Carthage. For those of you who already know Terri, you know she’s an amazing visionary. Like her husband Lonnie Heckmaster, who serves as treasurer on artCentral’s board of directors, she dreams big dreams and lives those dreams until they really do come true. Though my artCentral commitments kept me from jumping into the delicious art-making opportunity Terri was proposing, David and I put her dream project on our go-to wish list.
You see, somehow, we’d let my February birthday and our May wedding anniversary pass without finding just the right dates and places for celebratory dinners. Eventually, we decided to celebrate the two events as one. Though we made trips to Kansas City and Joplin and New York City and other restaurant-rich locales, still we had not found that truly “special” time and meal for our birthday-anniversary celebration.
In the meantime, we made food-centric, close-to-home outings. We kept enjoying after-work visits for “amuse bouche” (French for “a little bit of food”) at The Deli and Mother Road Coffee on our hometown square. Making our way to run our puppies at the Parr Hill Dog Park in Joplin, we indulged in cappuccinos and weekend brunch at the outdoor bistro seating at Starbucks.
By way of our eating out here in the Carthage-Joplin crossroads of America, we have connected with interesting people from many, many places. We have met numerous Route 66 travelers from across the USA and several continents beyond. David has swapped Navy stories with lots of folks who have been to far shores in uniforms for our country.
Not too long ago, a nice man in a uniform — the working attire of a chef — held the door for me at Mother Road Coffee. Not bumping into too many people dressed as he was, I asked him where he cooked.
“I’ve opened my own restaurant outside of town,” he told me with a decidedly European accent. “I just came in for a good espresso, and I have to get to work.”
Off he went, leaving me with questions I really wanted to ask him: What restaurant? Where outside of town?
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for my answers. The very next Sunday, as we sat outside a Joplin Starbucks, David and I encountered this mystery chef picking up a morning espresso on his way to begin prepping for his Sunday lunch diners. Greeting our puppies with his lovely accent, we learned his name is Aleksander Sula.
A native of Albania, Alex lived for years in New York City until he decided he was ready for a quieter life. Driving from his urban setting into the Midwest, he looked for the right place to open his dream restaurant. Whether he found Terri Heckmaster or she found him first, I’m not quite sure. Either way, their meeting was serendipity. A marvelous new gift to Carthage, “Taste of Italy” — Alex’s dream restaurant, is found today at 4321 South Chapel Road on the beautifully landscaped grounds of Precious Moments.
At last, David and I made our way to a luscious, much-delayed, birthday-anniversary dinner as we dined surrounded by large, artistic photographs decorating Alex’s expansive space. We expected the guests to be few on a week night, but as the evening went on, the tables quickly filled. Seated with three friends, former artCentral board member Miriam Putnam told me she is at “Taste of Italy” at least three times a week and is never disappointed.
David and I were utterly pleased with our first visit. Thoughtfully studying and discussing the extensive menu, we took our time settling in and sampling Alex’s tender rolls we dipped in warm marinara sauce. Once we made our choices and ordered — angel hair pomodoro with Alex’s hand-crafted pasta for me and a seafood combo in white wine sauce for David — our meal came quickly served in generous white bowls that showed off our colorfully composed selections.
When Alex slipped out of his kitchen for a quick table side visit, and Tiramisu followed and pleased us more than any we’ve ever tasted, we knew our dream had come true. Yes, here in our small town we were celebrating our special occasions meal with all the style and grace and satisfaction we had been wishing to find.
Indeed, dreams do come true!
Learn more of Alex’s dream. Visit “Taste of Italy” on Facebook. Read the glowing reviews and see the photos of Alex’s impressive culinary artistry. Take a drive and indulge in a dream.
Alice Lynn Greenwood-Mathe is the executive director-curator of artCentral at the Hyde House in Carthage.