Award Winning Pasta and Pizza puts North Carolina on the Culinary Map

The alarm clock screams out, you roll over, stretch and take a glimpse at the clock. IT IS 6:15am!!!!  You leap out of bed, wash your face and throw a pop tart in the toaster. You yell for the kids to put on their shoes and get in the car in an effort not to be late for school (hopefully they aren’t still in their PJs).  You sit at the same red light as it changes three times, your iPhone is already buzzing with notifications on every app from Facebook to Gmail and your boss is texting you to not forget donuts for the morning meeting. 

We tend to go through the motions of our day, rushing through the “golden arches” for lunch and driving home thinking what we can quickly throw together for dinner before basketball practice tonight. We are all guilty of being caught in this cycle through our days and meals as if to be on autopilot - sometimes we need a reminder to SLOW DOWN. 


It is well known that Italians are well versed in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table”.  Perhaps the first thing people think about when they think of Italy is the joy, warmth, and magic created around the Italian dinner table! The dinner table is one of the most enduring images and metaphors in Italian art, celebrated in their greatest paintings and films from the Renaissance to present day!  The table is where life slows down, drama and celebrations unfold, and familial bonds and battles are forged.  The deepest ties of love and friendship are developed and strengthened around the dinner table. Italians understand the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of beautiful food and drink. 

If you have had the blessing of exploring and experiencing Italy, you know the food is AMAZING and can attest to how dinner is a time to be surrounded by loved ones, enjoy life and good food!  If you haven’t traveled to Italy, you’re in luck, the experience may be a little closer than you think.

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Nino’s Cucina Italiana is tucked away amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Greenville, NC in a beautiful little cove off of Red Banks Road.  Salvatore Passalacqua, Pietro Passalacqua and Massimo Mannino have brought the wonderful experience of a true Italian meal to Eastern North Carolina.

Born in Sicily, Italy, brothers Salvatore and Pietro moved to Brooklyn New York with their family when they were young boys.   Their father, Nino Passalacqua, came from humble beginnings in Italy, where he worked in a bakery with his father.   Once he arrived in New York City, Nino worked in a landmark deli in “Little Italy” known as the “Italian Food Center”.  Famous for its bread, focaccia and pizza, it’s still on the corner of Grand and Mulberry Street.  Nino baked bread all day long to ensure sandwiches in the deli were made from quality, fresh bread. 

Although he loved working at the Italian Food Center, Nino knew he had to focus on the future of his family.  In 1983, he opened his own pizza shop in Brooklyn.  Following his plan to build a legacy, Nino taught his family everything he knew about food and business.

Left to right: Nino Passalacqua, Massimo Mannino, Salvatore Passalacqua, and Pietro Passalacqua

Left to right: Nino Passalacqua, Massimo Mannino, Salvatore Passalacqua, and Pietro Passalacqua

In 2006, Massimo and Salvatore left Brookyln and opened “Marabella Italian Restaurant” in Washington, NC.  Later, in 2009, they opened “Marabella Old World Pizza” in Greenville, NC where their brother Pietro soon joined. They make traditional, award winning pizza the way it’s made in New York and Italy. 

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For the last 7 years, Salvatore and Massimo have competed with the United States Pizza team, along with approximately 20 teammates.  They compete all over the world in places like Las Vegas, Spain, China, Chicago, San Diego and Atlantic City sharing their recipes and expertise.  These are typically two day events, where the first day they make a dish from a list of given ingredients and the second day they make a dish using ingredients they can bring with them.  One competition, Salvatore brought arugula and when he was ready to use it, it had wilted.  During the 40 minutes he had to make the dish, he had to run out to a nearby store and buy more arugula. 


Recently Salvatore earned the title “Pasta Maker World Champion 2018” in the North East Pasta Show Down in Atlantic City, NJ.  There were over 140 participants in all categories and roughly 20 chefs competing for the title.  Day one he made Cavatelli alla Contadina and on the second day Salvatore took a leap of faith, introducing a non-traditional recipe he created, that is on the Nino’s and Marabella’s menu, the Saltimbocca di Pollo.  This is a delicious, lightly fried filet chicken breast in a sweet orange cream sauce, topped with prosciutto, provolone cheese and raisins, served with pasta and broccoli.  I was lucky enough to try this dish on a recent visit. One bite and I felt like the food critic, Ego on Ratatouille when he takes one bite of Remy’s dish and goes back to his childhood - I am quite sure for a minute I was sitting in a café in Italy enjoying a fabulous meal - truly it is a “must try” dish on the menu!

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These competitions allow Salvatore and Massimo to put Nino’s Cucina Italian and Greenville, NC on the culinary map! Last year, in 2017, Massimo won “Pasta Maker World Champion” and “Pizza Maker World Champion” in the same competition.  They travel and share their amazing chef talents with people from all over the world.

Pietro Passalacqua and Massimo Mannino accepting the March of Dimes “People’s Choice” Award.

Pietro Passalacqua and Massimo Mannino accepting the March of Dimes “People’s Choice” Award.

The Nino’s Italian Cucina team aren’t just winning awards across the globe, but back home too. This dynamic team was just awarded the “People’s Choice Award 2018” at the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction.

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Now, over 75 years of an Italian family tradition in baking and cooking from three generations has culminated in Nino’s Cucina Italiana. Their Italian dishes are centuries old recipes handed down in their family throughout the years.  They prepare all of their food daily – making fresh dough, sauces, mozzarella cheese, pasta and their delicious meatballs in-house.  Not to mention their cannoli, words can’t describe exactly just how memorable these are.

Nino’s Cucina Italiana is a tribute to their father, Nino.  He still travels constantly to all the locations to make sure everything is done “Nino’s Way”, with quality food, personality, and love!  Salvatore, Massimo and Pietro are opening a fourth location in Winterville, NC later this year. 

When you are at Nino’s you will feel like family.  You will be surrounded by family photos that tell the story of their life from Italy to Greenville!  You can even sit on the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets (a small recreation of a piece of their past). Take the time out of your day to sit down, as a family and let Salvatore, Pietro and Massimo prepare your authentic Italian meal.  Don’t rush, don’t look at the clock and leave your cell phone in the car.  Enjoy a bottle of Nino’s wine, talk about life, laugh, and have DESSERT !!  Si Mangia – LET’S EAT!!!