03 Jun 2024

Osteria Del Monte Ristorante Italiano

By Kay West

Photos by Carole Shepardson

It is entirely possible there are people living on the plateau who still have a key to one of the original lockers at Osteria Del Monte Ristorante Italiano, which opened in 2001 when liquor by the drink was still illegal and the restaurant was BYOB. Regulars stored their sprits for cocktail making in the locker and brought wine with them to dine.

Though the lockers are gone, should anyone have an enduring love of the original items on the menu, they’ll find them 23 years later. The mozzarella caprese, cannelloni Fiorentina, chicken Marsala, shrimp fra diavolo, veal piccata, eggplant parmigiana and of course, the rigatoni Osteria are etched on the pages tucked into an elegant white leather binder. Or as owner Joseph Nuzzi III fondly refers to it – the family bible.

“We have guests who have been dining here since day one,” he says. “Many of them still want dishes they had their first time.”

Day one of Osteria Del Monte – or Tavern on the Mountain- was under the ownership of Nuzzi’s uncle Giovanni Minervini and cousin Claudio Trevisan, who owned Trevini Ristorante in Palm Beach, FL. Customers in Florida who summered in Lake Toxaway and Sapphire Lakes (now Burlingame Country Club) suggested the restaurateurs open a place closer to those second homes.

Minervini and Trevisan came up for a look-see and destiny steered them into the parking lot at 19131 Rosman Highway. A former residence had been converted to a restaurant a decade before, and the business partners jumped on the opportunity.

Joseph Nuzzi was already working at the Florida restaurant and was recruited to Sapphire to help open the new place. For many years, Osteria operated seasonally – May through October – so Nuzzi split his time between North Carolina and Florida.

When he decided he wanted a change of career and scenery, he moved to Scottsdale, AZ, started a cosmetics company and committed to the corporate life.

Facing extreme staffing challenges during COVID, the restaurant partners asked Nuzzi if he could help them for a season. “I think the 18-year hiatus from the industry gave me the break and perspective I needed,” Nuzzi says. “I realized I had missed it, and I came back with a new energy and passion for it.”

That passion and energy has been the wind in Nuzzi’s sails as he navigates Osteria to simultaneously honor tradition and welcome the new. In 2022 he said ciao to Scottdale, moved full time to Sapphire and on his birthday in February 2023, got the keys.

He spent the next few months refurbishing, rearranging, renovating and reinventing; the big reveal happened in May 2023. A light-filled lounge delivers the first impression and is a comfortable place to enjoy a cocktail, wait for a table or dine at the bar.

The carpet in the main room has been replaced with hardwood floors, lighting is more contemporary, colorful local art is on the wood-paneled walls (“We wanted to honor the mountain tavern concept,” Nuzzi explains.), and the room has a fresh look thanks to new tables draped with linens and chic chairs upholstered in white leather similar to the menu. A large stone fireplace still anchors the far wall; drapes have been removed from the windows on the side of the building fronting the road, providing a serene view beyond the enclosed porch.

The most exciting innovation of Osteria Del Monte in 2024 is taking place behind the kitchen doors, led by executive chef, Jose Salas, who also moved from Florida to live full time in Sapphire. “Chef Jose started with my family more than 20 years ago as a dishwasher,” Nuzzi says. “We started at the same time, I was also washing dishes, and we came up together, and now here we are, all these years later.”

That long relationship brings creative confidence to the off-menu specials Nuzzi calls features and number about eight per service, showing up as starters, pasta and mains. They’re introduced and deftly explained by servers.

Should crab panzanella be one of those, just say yes. A layered round construction of diced tomato, cucumber and cantaloupe is topped with a quarter inch of lump crab meat bound with crushed house-made croutons; the plate is painted with basil-infused olive oil and pale coral aurora sauce.

Octopus carpaccio is a showstopping work of art – translucent medallions of cooked octopus unfurl a kaleidoscope around a tangle of micro greens and sliced fennel; segments of blood orange balance the earthy flavor of the octopus with bright citrus.

House-made ravioli sautéed in sage brown butter and filled with creamy, mild burrata that oozes out of the pasta when pierced, has its own fan club, lobbying for a permanent place on the menu.

Table-side presentations are rare indeed, but Nuzzi addresses a whole Dover sole on a platter with practiced ease and flair, transfers the filets to a plate, then drizzles a just-right amount of meunière sauce – butter, lemon, capers and white wine – over the flaky white meat.

Classic Italian profiteroles covered in chocolate ganache, a surprisingly light ricotta and pistachio cheesecake and refreshing bright orange sorbet are among the desserts.

Nuzzi is extending Osteria Del Monte’s season to nine months this year, and no one is happier about that than he is. “As this area grows, we’re growing with it. I love what I do. It’s such a joy to welcome familiar faces back again and meet the new.”


Osteria Del Monte Ristorante Italiano

19131 Rosman Highway, Sapphire, NC 28774

(828) 883-2551

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