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When in Rome: Rudy's Italian Restaurant 

Talk about a snack down. The 6400 block of Rea Road — also known by those who use the Four-Mile Creek Greenway as the parking lot — has taken down a heady group of Italian restaurateurs. First Ciro Marino opened the incomparable Campania Ristorante, but later sold it. Then the larger-than-life restaurateur Giovanni Lorenzi (Si!) opened Firenze. In January 2010, Rome native Rudy Amadio opened Rudy's Italian Restaurant & Bar. Amadio is no stranger to the Charlotte market. He and his wife Luisa have been mainstays of exceptional Italian cuisine — and gelato — in Charlotte for two decades: first at Luisa's Pizzeria (they sold that), then with gelato shops and the current and local favorite Dolce Ristorante Italiano in Dilworth.

Yet operating a neighborhood-friendly restaurant in this section of south Charlotte, with a compromised parking lot and patrons with patently Northern accents, has been, well, challenging.

What Rudy's diners enjoy — in addition to good food — is old-world charm and a sincere hands-on approach to the business. Warmth-personified Amadio welcomes all, some by name. Instantly, you are wrapped in the rosy glow of the terra cotta deliberately-mottled walls in a dining room framed by a large circular bar. On some nights, a musician plays in one corner, filling the room with a modern sound. Rudy's has the style of a small, cosmopolitan, family-run restaurant with sweeping views of urban boulevards. Rudy's is not a red-and-white garlic-and-cheese Italian place.

The kitchen adeptly brings out the essential goodness of hearty ingredients and lighter dishes. The menu walks the line between the casual unpretentious offerings of a trattoria and those of a more formal ristorante. On the starter list is a respectable crisp fried zucchini and calamari while an elaborate crab and lobster stuffed flounder with cognac sauce is a featured entrée. All dishes are reassuringly familiar.

No reason to hesitate delving into the squad of tender baby artichokes with their bright goat cheese interior snapped by a roasted pepper garlicky white sauce. A generous Caesar salad is bolstered with a creamy dressing and sided by a hard-boiled egg. The Amadio tradition of pasta portioning is evident here with a bountiful bowlful of rigatoni studded with slices of Italian sausage, English peas and thin slices of mushrooms. The velvety tomato sauce is packed with flavor and layered in luxurious doses. Not all dishes are inspired, though. On one evening, the salmon special was listless and sliced to a thin one-half inch while accompanied by anemic broccoli and cauliflower. But there is no mistaking the star. At Rudy's, gnocchi is offered exclusively on Thursdays. Why Thursday? Amadio is quick to say that in Rome, gnocchi is always served on Thursdays while tripe is saved for Saturday: "Giovedi gnocchi, sabato trippa." (Tripe soup is not served here on Saturday.)

Rudy's staff is smart and attentive. The wine list is a delightful journey through Italian wine regions and complements the menu. Desserts, while models of elegance, are predictable: Italian cheesecake, tiramisu. Only the gelato is made in-house. But you need go no further because this flavor-infused gelato is worth the effort to find a parking space. In fact, as a Four-Mile Creek dog walker, I would enjoy a Rudy's gelato stand in the greenway.

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