The sun was starting to set when we arrived at Itavie. The brick-and-glass corner shop was beginning to glow, and the smooth sound of Sinatra wafted into the warm early-fall air.

I’d painted a picture inside my mind of the “New York grill and bakery” in Spotsylvania Crossing off Route 208. Pizza, pasta and panini danced through my head along with a swirl of sweet treats. But even before I’d parked the car, I knew our Itavie experience would be more than I had imagined.

Surprisingly upscale, it’s not quite fine dining but far more than a sandwich shop. Fancy light fixtures and textured place mats add pops of luxury to the brightly lit, booth-style space. Even on a lazy Monday night, families, couples and groups of friends filed in and out, grabbing to-go orders or settling in for the evening.

“Itavie” translates to “Italian life,” and Sicily-born owner Maria Misseri serves a slice of it, mixing dishes from home (fettuccine Alfredo, $8.95) with traditional favorites (fried chicken and waffles, $10.95). A dessert case at the front of the shop holds a rainbow of homemade gelatos and a host of non-Weight Watchers-compliant confections. Sorry, Oprah.

Our server, a bundle of energy and personality, let me sample two wines, and a dry, full-bodied Chianti paired well with the appetizers my mom, two teenage sons and I chose.

Calamari Fritti ($9.95)—rings of moist, tender squid wrapped in a substantial but not overdone coating and tossed with fried onion straws atop a razor-thin slather of rich lobster cream sauce—was excellent. Fried oysters ($12) were among the night’s off-menu specials, and five or six succulent medium-sized shellfish showed up at our table. Both starters came with a mini salad to share—crisp romaine lettuce and hefty shavings of Parmesan, with a zingy-sweet balsamic drizzle.

Itavie offers a smorgasbord of sandwiches ($8.95–$10.95), from the classic Reuben to an Italian burger with oven-roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and pesto. But alas, the boys wanted pizza. Specialty pies (12 inches, $12.95; 16, $14.95) include prosciutto and artichoke, chicken vodka and other mouthwatering masterpieces. There’s also a create-your-own pizza or stromboli option (12 inches, $8.95, toppings $1.50; 16, $10.95, toppings $2.50).

Our 16-inch pie came with the black olives, pepperoni and bacon we asked for, plus Kalamatas, a happy but salty surprise. The crisp hand-tossed crust was topped with a tangy, somewhat spicy, sauce and just the right amount of melty mozzarella. My mom’s lobster ravioli ($13.95), seafood-stuffed pasta in a velvety cognac lobster cream sauce with basil and Italian cheese, was smooth and sinfully delicious.

Full of carbs and calories, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave Itavie without something from the dessert case. Misseri’s homemade gelato ($3.95 for one scoop) is soft and silky—to die for—and from the array of flavors that shone through the glass, the boys picked mango and mint chocolate chip. Mom and I split a wickedly thick slice of tiramisu ($4.95). It was luscious, and we argued over the gooey coffee-flavored drizzles that had settled down toward the bottom.

The choice—cheesecake, cannoli, you name it—had been difficult, and we’re looking forward to trying more treats. Maybe we’ll go back in the spring, when we can take advantage of Itavie’s ample outdoor seating, especially now that we know what to expect.

Lisa Chinn works in PR at the University of Mary Washington. Her favorite food group is all of them.

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