Columbias first authentic Italian restaurant continues to offer original recipes as well as a selection of imported Italian goods.
Whats good here?
It was in the early part of the 1900s that Sadie Carnaggia Tronco, whose family was from Sicily, began making spaghetti and meatballs for soldiers of Italian descent stationed at Fort Jackson during World War II. They visited her husbands Iodine Fruit Store in Columbia and upon learning she was Italian, expressed how much they missed their mothers cooking. Sadies cooking skills eventually evolved into what is now Villa Tronco. She would cook them spaghetti and meatballs and pizza, which became Columbias first introduction to the favorite dish.
The same recipes that were used then are still used now. The square, thin-crust pizzas, the sauces, the bread, the chicken soup, the ravioli all have always been made the same, says Carmella Roche, Sadies granddaughter and the third-generation owner of Villa Tronco with her husband, Joe Roche. We allow the chefs to experiment with specials, but the dishes that grandmother created are the same ones we serve.
A signature dish is the Pollo Villa Tronco chicken breast in a sherry wine cream sauce topped with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes served over linguine. There are plenty of seafood dishes, beginning with the tender, seasoned calamari and including crab cakes, Seafood Italiano and Creamy Seafood Pesto, and Linguine with Clam Sauce. A filet mignon is served with mushrooms and linguine.
At the Italian Festival, which takes place each October in Columbia, Carmella (on the board of the local chapter of the Sons of Italy) sets up a fresh market of a variety of Italian imports. They were so well received, and people asked us where they could buy them in Columbia on a regular basis, so I opened up a specialty shop at the entryway of the restaurant.
They also sell pastas, olive oils, and other ingredients used in the menu items. Customers can purchase large, gallon-size containers of olive oil for $20 to $30. There are filled croissants and pastries, Italian cookies, pastas, herbs, salad dressing, and three types of Panettones, which are specialty Italian cakes that Carmella says are sought-after Christmas gifts in either the one-serving or multiple serving sizes.
Another popular item is the pocket coffee candies, which are chocolates with a shot of Espresso. Plus, on display in a pastry case are a variety of cheesecakes made by Carmellas mother, Carmella Martin, who still comes to work at the restaurant daily. The cheesecakes sell for $35 whole, or can be ordered by the slice. Sausages and provolone cheese also are available.
How does Villa Troncos endure as Columbias oldest restaurant?
In 1940 and until her death in 1988, Carmella Tronco served her treasured recipes in her restaurant. She passed the legacy on to her daughter and her daughters husband and, since the 1980s, the restaurant has been operated by her granddaughter and granddaughters husband. Currently, Carmella and Joe Roche are grooming their own children, Carmelina and Bonner, to eventually become the fourth-generation owners.
Who eats here?
Descendants of the original soldiers that Sadie cooked for during World War II come into town to visit Villa Tronco. Multiple generations of customers who grew up eating at Villa Tronco with their parents now take their own children and grandchildren. We also have students who come in regularly, businesspeople, and many groups. Right now we have a lot who are coming here for their Christmas parties, says Carmella Roche. Villa Tronco can accommodate up to 100 customers.
Tables can be pulled together for large parties, and the back room seats 70 and can be rented out for special events, such as a wedding reception or a birthday party.
On the first Thursday of the month from 7-8:30, the restaurant is packed with those who come to listen to free opera by Palmetto Opera. What does the place look like?
The building where Villa Tronco has operated 70 years was the location of the Palmetto (Fire) Engine Company in the mid 1800s. The downtown historic structure is narrow at the front, but is deep stretching from Blanding Street almost to Laurel Street, where the Palmetto Engine Company housed its fire horses and water wagons. The barn doors are still visible. The interiors exposed bricks, beams, brick-tiled floor, and paneling provide an old-world feel and a backdrop for a multitude of paintings of Italian scenes and family photos. For Christmas, the Roches decorates with giant poinsettias, wreaths, red tablecloths, lights, and a big bow on the enormous porcelain fire dog that guards the back room of the restaurant.