Italian at It’s Best

Italian at it’s Best
Joseph’s Italian Bistro…..Delizioso
STORY BY KASS FINCHER
Tucked away at South Harbor Village Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway is Joseph’s Italian Bistro. Dining on the balcony offers wonderful views of boats and the waterway. And the classic Italian food makes Joseph’s a popular dining destination for locals and tourists alike.

Tucked away at South Harbor Village Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway is Joseph’s Italian Bistro. Dining on the balcony offers wonderful views of boats and the waterway. And the classic Italian food makes Joseph’s a popular dining destination for locals and tourists alike.
Proprietors Joe and Debra Borsuk opened Joseph’s in 2003, bringing years of restaurant experience with them. Joe grew up in California, working in his uncle’s restaurant when he was a youngster. After a stint in New York, he moved to Wrightsville Beach and worked at the Bridge Tender for years. Debra operated a deli in Oak Island before joining Joe to open the Bistro.
The restaurant offers a traditional selection of Italian pasta dishes like ravioli, lasagna and linguine, and classic favorites like chicken parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana, as well as fresh surf and turf creations. All are served with Joseph’s unique sauces. Several dishes offer a twist on the traditional approach, like Shrimp Scampi “Joseph’s Style,” with a sherry wine sauce that delivers uncommon flavor.
Perhaps one of the most popular selections is Mama Rosa’s Meatballs, served with penne or linguine and marinara. Mama Rosa is Joe’s mother, now retired, who spent years working in the kitchen with her son, pounding veal and making meatballs from scratch, using no recipe but only her own best instincts.
Joe relates his concern when his mother announced she would be retiring and moving to Raleigh. “It was weird, she was the only one who ever made the meatballs. So when she was getting ready to leave, I had to have a recipe. But it turned out to be a handful of this, a handful of that. I made her put it in a ramekin so I would know exactly how she did it. Two ramekins of garlic, three ramekins of oregano, two fists of mozzarella cheese. I got those instructions from her and that’s exactly what I did.”
He knew his customers would want Mama Rosa’s Meatballs to be exactly the same, even if her son would be making them now. He believes that consistency is the key to his restaurant’s success. “We fight for, since day one, to be consistent,” Joe says. “The meatballs have to taste the same; the sauces have to taste the same every day, because people expect that.”
Joseph’s prides itself on their surf and turf market selections as well, each usually served with the chef’s choice of starch and demi-glaze. Their seafood comes from Haag and Sons Seafood in Oak Island. All of the produce is fresh and local. Since the restaurant is open only in the evenings, they receive most of their fresh supplies in the morning for preparations.
And when the doors open, the kitchen is ready for whatever happens. “It’s kind of unpredictable,” says Joe. “One night you might sell a gazillion lasagnas; the next night you might sell four. In the summer, we’re very busy. It seems like earlier in the evening you sell the basics, like lasagna or chicken parmigiana, then later that night you see more orders for steak or fresh fish.”
Complementing the menu are the Bistro’s wine selections. Debra worked with their wine distributor to customize the wine list to enhance the food. “Ever since I changed the wine menu, I have received so many compliments on it,” she says. “I know what I like, but we wanted to offer the best selection that goes with our food. He came up with a very – as he calls it – ‘sexy menu.’ It’s a nice combination, a lot of different choices, but we try to make sure we keep it in that reasonable price range where it’s really affordable. We also have house wines that carry our label; people love those. They are good quality wines.”
Joe claims Debra is a wine snob, but apparently that’s a good person to be when you have to select the right wines for your restaurant. The results are there – Joseph’s sells a lot more wine than beer and liquor combined. The choices must be working.
In addition to the bar and dining area, there are two private dining rooms that can each seat 8-12 people. Named after Debra’s parents, they are extremely popular; all that’s required is a reservation.
Besides the food and wine, the other impressive aspect for Joseph’s is the longevity of their staff. Many have been there for 10 years or more – in the kitchen Ryan Johnson, Bobby Wright and Chris Major; in the front area Frank Jankowski and Mark Bonello.
Debra describes the employees’ commitment. “Our staff is incredible; they’re like family. We get so many repeat customers; they love our employees. When we’re busy, it’s like everyone’s working together, we work as a team – it’s a family business. It’s like a machine – amazing how everyone pitches in, no matter their specific role. The staff are friends, they socialize outside the restaurant – we never need to advertise for help. When we need people, our staff goes and finds them. They’re so particular themselves about who’s going to work with them, so I usually let them determine the wait staff. They need to play in their sandbox.”
And sometimes the staff has a mischievous side too. Debra relates a prank that one of the chefs played on some customers. “Some friends of my parents lived in Waterford. The grandson of the friends, Matt Schaub, was the quarterback for Atlanta, a backup to Michael Vick. They all came down to eat one evening. We had this big New York Giants helmet that was like a magnet and Ryan put the magnet on the back of the grandparents’ car. And they drove off. Then Matt followed them with his girlfriend in their car, so he had to look at it all the way home. We never got it back; we assume they took it off and threw it in the trash.”
Sometimes quirky things happen. But when the food is excellent and the people are like a family, it all works out.
Joseph’s Italian Bistro
5003 O’Quinn Drive
Southport/Oak Island, NC
910-454-4440
www.josephsitalianbistro.com

Monday – Thursday 5-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5-9:30 p.m.
Sunday – Memorial Day – Labor Day
Closed on Monday in January and February

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