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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

An improved local Italian ristorante and Chili Willi recipes!

You know how there are some restaurants you like – like, even a whole lot – but you still don’t visit them all that often? Yet every time you do, you can’t believe you don’t eat there more?

Roasted Corn & Pancetta Scallops from Ristorante Abruzzi
Roasted Corn & Pancetta Scallops from Ristorante Abruzzi

That’s me with Ristorante Abruzzi. It’s a local Italian restaurant that has gotten gradually (but substantially) better through its first few years in business, but still isn’t one that automatically “comes to mind” when I’m trying to decide where to enjoy a nice night out.

I’ve heard the same from others, so it’s time we change that.

And wanting to grab a close bite before a recent outdoor concert at the nearby Clay Center gave me the perfect opportunity to start doing just that.

Flat-Iron Bistecca with Pancetta-Parmesan Potatoes
Flat-Iron Bistecca with Pancetta-Parmesan Potatoes

After sipping a gloriously dusty martini inside the restaurant at Appalachian Power Park, I scanned an Italian-heavy menu of appetizers, soups, salads, pastas and more before deciding to go rogue by ordering non-traditional Italian dishes.

The pizzas, risottos and pastas sounded amazing, don’t get me wrong, but I told myself I wanted something “lighter” for the night. (You’ll be laughing at that comment here in a minute.)

I did bypass heavy sausage and peppers, fried calamari, lobster dip and the like to start out with the relatively delicate (and delicious!) roasted corn and pancetta diver scallops atop dollops of polenta.

But then I totally caved on my “light dinner” pledge.

Lemon Cream Pie from Ristorante Abruzzi
Lemon Cream Pie from Ristorante Abruzzi

Not with steak and gorgonzola risotto or salmon campanelle with white wine cream or truffle carbonara with pecorino cheese or cheesy eggplant Parmesan, but with a very well-prepared flat-iron steak with porcini butter, grilled asparagus and stupid-good crispy, salty pancetta-parmesan potatoes.

Which I followed with a creamy, cloudy slice of whipped lemon cream pie.

And I didn’t regret it for a second.

It was a delicious meal from start to finish and reminded me that Ristorante Abruzzi just keeps getting better and better.

I was impressed when Chef Brandon Estep took over the kitchen last year, immediately elevating the restaurant’s culinary game. I’m happy to report, he still is.

  • IF YOU GO: Ristorante Abruzzi, 601 Morris St. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5 to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. For more information, call 681-265-3756 or visit

• • •

The outpouring of love for Chin’s continues after last week’s column announcing the longtime Chinese restaurant in Kanawha City will be closing its doors for good on Sept. 30 after nearly 36 years in business there.

“Mr. Keith, thank you for the wonderful article about Chin's Restaurant. I will truly miss their cuisine,” Lisa Woo wrote.

“Our family has held special celebrations there over the years. They have been lifelong friends of our family since the early 1950s, when William Chin opened the second Chinese restaurant in Charleston,” she added.

“The Canton Restaurant was opened around 1917 when my grandfather arrived in Charleston. As they were leaving the restaurant business, William Chin opened his restaurant on Quarrier Street.”

Whitney Hess was one of several readers saying they hope Chin’s accepts my request to share the recipe for their popular Tahitian Chicken dish, a crowd favorite.

Chili Willi's Chef Ron Smith shares restaurant recipes
Chili Willi's Chef Ron Smith shares restaurant recipes

He also let me in on this juicy bit of news I did not know about!

“In case you had not seen it, Ron Smith of the long gone (but not forgotten) Chili Willi’s in Huntington is showing everyone how to make his old recipes on YouTube,” he told me.

“I have tried to duplicate Chili Willi’s recipes for many years, including the original Bowl of Red (chili) that is the latest video.”

Growing up near Huntington, I was absolutely OBSESSED with the original Chili Willi’s location on 4th Avenue, known for its cool cantina atmosphere and the hands-down best Mexican food around.

People lost their minds when it closed years ago, me chief among them, so I’ll definitely be checking out these recipe videos online. You can also watch them at

• • •

Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at

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