Cucina South

Serving delicious Northern and Southern Italian specialties with an outstanding wine list, Cucina South in Palmetto Walk is developing a loyal following on the island.

Not only are good restaurants filled with couples enjoying each other’s company, sometimes they are managed by the couples who create them. The synergy of restaurants run by a husband-wife team I’ve always liked for how smoothly the front and back of the house communicate.

One such place is Cucina South on Amelia Island’s south end in historic Palmetto Walk Shopping Village. A couple of years ago, Nikki & Llew left their busy North Carolina lives seeking a more relaxed pace with a chance to work together. They’re happy to be here.

Looking herself like an Italian beauty is Nikki at the door, while in the kitchen is Llew, who earned his chops over 20 years in Cary, North Carolina Italian restaurants. For the Amelia Island community, Llew has created a tidy menu of classics using local vendors whenever possible.

It has a devoted clientele, I’d heard, so my husband, Ken, and I went to see why. The charming exterior, Italian music, bold colors on the walls, friendly staff, and inspiration in the kitchen all make for a heady experience around the Northern and Southern Italian cuisine Cucina South offers. Their pick-up service is bustling, too, so we’re keeping their number in our phones.

A variety of wines suits the diverse tastes of regulars and visitors alike, as Cucina South and Amelia Island Wine Company here in Palmetto Walk share the same owners. Nineteen of the 28 wines on their list are Italian. Our knowledgeable server Alyssa picked wines for my husband and me: semi-dry and aromatic, Est! Est! Est! White Blend is the pride of Montefiascone, just north of Rome. Juicy with dark fruit, berries, and chocolate, Regaleali Nero d’Avola comes from the historic estate of Regaleali in upper-middle Sicily. Each was just right for our food choices.

The meal begins with antipasto, naturally. Arancini and Fried Ravioli got our attention. Ubiquitous as Sicilian street food, Arancini is named for the Sicilian word for orange, which it resembles. Ours was lightly crispy on the outside, a creamy risotto ball stuffed with crab meat on the inside, sauced with lemon Mornay, and finished with shaved Parmesan. Its aftertaste was glorious, as was that of the Fried Ravioli, one of the daily creations by Chef Llew.

Piccata I know well, but I had never had it with salmon. Delightful! Chef Llew’s is tangy and bright, with subtle smoke from roasted red pepper, all served over flavorful pappardelle that has a perfect al dente bite. Ken’s Buffalo Bolognese was similarly memorable.

My memories of Italy include magnificent salads: a simple mix of greens and Italian extra-virgin olive oil with perhaps a bit of fruit, cheese, and nuts. Cucina South offers three salads that can be side portions or made into main dishes with seafood or meat. Olive Amelia is the source of their oils and balsamic vinegars. Ah, the perfect beginning, middle, and/or end to an Italian meal! Of course, if you interested in something sweet, Cucina South has wonderful specialty Italian classic desserts and digestifs.

We’re happy Nikki & Llew are here, we said when we got to the car. And we understood why their clientele is devoted. Cucina South is located at 4828 First Coast Highway, Suite. 1, in Palmetto Walk.