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Robust pomodoro sauce from John’s Island tomatoes, fresh pasta made in-house, and creamy hand-pulled mozzarella let you know there’s an Italian in the kitchen at La Tela Pizzeria.
In fact, the entire Rinaldi family participates in this friendly Neapolitan-style operation, where all signature items are made right there, much to the delight of guests who line up at the door. Located in Freshfields Village—at the entrance to Kiawah Island—La Tela is owned by executive chef Edward Rinaldi and his wife, Angela, who manages the restaurant along with daughter Rachel. Son and chef de cuisine Frank adds his passion and Culinary Institute of America training to the venture, where the family uses traditional methods and equipment as well as the freshest ingredients to deliver authentic cuisine with contemporary influences seven days a week.
If the aromas of baking breads and sizzling pizzas aren’t enough to get you in the door, a window view of the chefs at work in the open kitchen will surely pique your appetite. The heart of the house is located just inside the entrance, with wood-fired ovens opposite a busy pickup line where orders pause only seconds on their way to the adjacent dining room. Shades of walnut and sienna warm the space, and multi-generational photos of Rinaldi family members and friends add a touch of nostalgia. When the weather’s right, the outside terrace is also in great demand.
While waiting to be seated, we enjoyed an animated conversation with the bartender. He shared details of the menu and family traditions, including their commitment to fresh daily menus, which results in late-night prepping to ready the kitchen for the next day.
Fortified with wines selected from the Italian boutique list, we relished the warm butternut squash salad and fried fresh mozzarella that arrived first. The gorgeous salad included a galette of baked butternut squash crowned with truffle honey-dressed watercress, shaved fennel, bits of goat cheese, and candied walnuts held together with a thin squash wrap. Three large, crisp nuggets of house-made mozzarella offered a trio of flavors and sensations—the gentle crunch of the thin outer crust, the supple and delicate cheese, and the razor-thin slices of salty prosciutto, with flavorful marinara sauce for dipping.
Having heard a rumor that the pizzas and eggplant parmigiano were “legendary,” we decided to give them a try. Thanks to the unique properties of wood-fired ovens and the chef’s expert timing, the pizza crust was thin yet pleasantly chewy with mounds of sweet caramelized onions, herbed house-made ricotta, handcrafted sausage flavored with fennel and pepper, and a scattering of pecorino romano. The classic Italian eggplant parmigiano—exquisitely slender, lightly sautéed layers of eggplant finished with pomodoro and mozzarella—was a particularly clean, lighter version of this dish. The accompanying angel hair pasta, unbelievably tender and full of flavor, was so well-made that it could have been featured on its own with nothing more than a splash of olive oil and sprinkling of parmigiano.
For dessert, the panna cotta confirmed the chef’s interest in molecular gastronomy with its colossal vanilla bean custard, tart frozen passion fruit centerpiece, and white chocolate powder crumbles—a completely refreshing and most unusual ending. Next time, the affogato—vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso—will make a fine companion.
With the perfect blend of familial comfort, extremely personable staff, and outstanding food reflecting the best of Italian tradition and taste, La Tela is an island treasure. Bambinis have their own special menu, and create-your-own pizzas and pasta dishes lend special appeal for many appetites. Though reservations are not accepted, hosts will ease the wait by taking your name and phone number so you can shop and stroll until your table is ready, or you can people-watch from comfortable benches out front.
La Tela Pizzeria
133 Village Green Ln., Freshfields Village, John’s Island. (843) 768-1951, www.latelapizzeria.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Average entrée: $16