Lake Norman Magazine

Hidden Gems

Pasquale Caruso with his stepson and sous chef Erbey Godinez.
Pasquale Caruso with his stepson and sous chef Erbey Godinez.

Some are new and some have been around for a while. But chances are you may not have heard of them—until now. Go see for yourself why these three tucked away restaurants are also some of Lake Norman’s finest.

Caruso’sCaruso’s, in the Brawley School Commons Shopping Center, is arguably Lake Norman’s most authentic Italian trattoria. Chef-owner Pasquale Caruso came to the U.S. from the Naples region of Italy 30 years ago. “I was always cooking,” he says. “Ever since I was 7 years old, when I would start dinner for my family because my mother worked.” After working as saucier in the formidable Le Cirque in Manhattan, Caruso opened his own successful restaurant in New Jersey. A difficult divorce drained his bank account but not his talent, and he headed south to Charlotte where he had friends in the restaurant business. Caruso cooked in Queen City restaurants until he saved up enough money to open his own place in Mooresville, which feels upscale but also warm and welcoming. Caruso says he often works 16-hour days, seven days a week, and his hard work is evident when you sample his many delectable menu items. Everything is made in-house, the sauces, pasta, gnocchi, salad dressing, dessert, and even the ciabatta bread. Popular choices include funghi ripieni (mushrooms stuffed with spinach and fontina cheese, finished with a Gorgonzola sauce), pasta parrpadelle calabria (fettuccini tossed with shrimp and brococoli in a light white wine cream sauce) or the pollo involtini entrée (chicken breast stuffed with ham, fontina and asiago cheese, wrapped in bacon and baked then napped with a sage butter sauce). Moreover, everything is reasonably priced, with only one entrée more than $20. Caruso’s

Caruso'sBrawley School Commons Shopping Center, Suite 405, Mooresville

El ParaisoHusband and wife team José and Carmen Cruz own and operate this unassuming but fantastic El Salvadorian restaurant in Cornelius. It’s truly a family affair, as two of the Cruz’s seven daughters, Corina and Elizabeth, manage the front of the house. (Another daughter, Katie, is a senior at Davidson College.)“We have Mexican dishes, El Salvadorian dishes, and a few Cuban dishes, but they are all similar,” Corina says. For instance, their tamales are not wrapped in the traditional Mexican cornhusks, but instead steamed in banana leaves, which infuses the meal with a very specific (and delicious) flavor.Carmen Cruz prepares everything in-house from scratch, including the delicious el tipico appetizer platter (chicken tamale, fried plantains, and fried yucca served with sour cream and limes, along with a savory Salvadorian pastry called pastelito, and a papusa, which is a flat corn tortilla filled with pork and cheese and refried bean). It’s a great way to sample several El Salvadorian dishes in one sitting. For main entrees, don’t miss the caldo de mariscos (soup of whole crab, mussels, clams and shrimp simmered in a sazon broth), or the lomo salteado (tender steaks tips sautéed with vegetables and served with fried plantains, fried yucca, beans and rice). Cuban tostones (fried green plantains served with garlic butter) make for an excellent side dish. Entrees average about $12. Most Mexican items can be ordered a la carte (a taco will run you $1.50, an enchilada just $2.50). You can also grab some of their freshly made chips ($3.99 for a big bag), and an assortment of fresh salsas ($4 for 16 ounces) to go. Carina says Lake Norman has plenty of adventurous diners, especially the students and teachers at nearby Davidson College, and that El Paraiso is the perfect place for folks to try something new.

El Paraiso 20700 N. Main St., Suite 124, Cornelius

Davidson Pizza Co.We’ve all heard the saying that good things come in small packages, but Davidson Pizza Co. is taking this to a new level. Located in a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, 500-square-foot building next to the Ada Jenkins Center, DPC is turning out some tremendous, New York-style pizzas. Co-owner Michael Adams, who hails from Long Island, says they make fresh dough and sauce everyday and use the best, most expensive cheeses available. You can taste this attention to freshness and quality when you bite into a hot slice. Adams owns DPC with his brother John, and executive chef Carlo Martinez, who perfected the art of pizza making in Manhattan. Craving authentic New York pizza is what drove Adams and his two partners to found Hawthorne’s Pizza in Charlotte over a decade ago. They’ve since opened four other Charlotte locations. While Hawthorne’s has been a big success, Adams says DPC, which opened in March, is a different concept from those full-service, sit-down restaurants. DPC is predominantly take-out, with limited seating at picnic tables outside. “We’re trying to create the convenience of take-out, but with a better product,” Adams says. Although they use high-quality ingredients, they keep prices realistic: a large 18” cheese pizza has eight slices (plenty for four people) and is just $12.95. Adams, who along with his brother lives in Davidson, says he’s passionate about his new venture and its role in the community. “We are very connected to Davidson, both personally and business-wise,” he says.

Davidson Pizza Company 300 Mock Road, Davidson