This town has a history of embattled Italian restaurants, so when Umbria Italian popped up on Elm street, the Vox staff was immediately compelled. Could this newcomer change the trend? Could traditional Italian cooking take a foothold in Columbia?
Do they have bottomless sangria?!
These serious questions gripped the staff, so I volunteered as tribute. I ventured into Umbria Italian one evening, seeking honest food and traditional cocktails in the name of journalism.
Upon entering Umbria, one can be hypnotized by the decor. It’s Old World Italy meets five-star restaurant: vintage Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling, raw wood planks line the walls and sheer plates frame the food like fine art.
First impression: “I’m totally underdressed right now.”
The hostess coaxes me inside to the bar, where I peruse the menu. Like any good Italian restaurant, the menu is written in Italian. The English descriptions of the meals don’t do them justice – more on that later.
A gorgeous bartender named Lauren makes a cocktail called Luce del Sole: citron vodka, honey lime syrup, blood orange, a splash of Campari and a lemon twist. Nobody at the bar will judge you and your pink drink, which is gloriously strong.
Now lubed up, I cave and order what I think is a chicken panini. The menu is a bit on the pricey side, but the quality of the food justifies it.
The panini arrives: it’s a perfectly-cooked breast of chicken resting openface on a piece of toasted bread smeared with pesto. Hearty slices of tomato top the chicken, and perfectly toasted cheese seals the deal. The panini rests on a bed of arugula, onions and artichokes. The whole thing only cost ten bucks.
By now the ambiance has taken hold: fresh cut flowers adorn every table, Broadway tunes float over the radio and cheerful conversation fills the room. Even with its formal trappings, Umbria feels like a family-owned Old World restaurant. Customers chat between tables. The pastry chef mingles in the dining room, leaving powered dough on customers through jovial hugs. Couples out on date night laugh and whisper to each other.
The whole place is so damn romantic I order another drink, the Bellinissimo: prosecco, puree of peach, ginger liquor, orange bitters and a splash of Cointreau. It’s even more drinkable than the last, a new favorite at the restaurant.
I come to a few conclusions: Umbria is clearly a unique addition to Columbia’s restaurant scene. A little off the beaten path but still near the action, it’s easily accessible both in distance and in price. Some entrees clear $15, but you get more than what you pay for. Take friends: in the evenings one can order a board of fresh market appetizer ingredients and a bottle of wine for $20. Perfect for that happy hour flow or a casual date night. When the parents come back to town, bring them to Umbria.
In the end, I know Umbria will fill a beloved niche in Columbia’s food scene. That’s amore, right?
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Umbria Rustic Italian
904 Elm Street, Suite 10
Mon – Thu: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri – Sat: 11 a.m. – midnight